Two articles, a Seiji no Genba analytical piece in today's Yomiuri Shimbun and a op-ed by Hoshi Hiroshi in the Asahi Shimbun ask the same pointed question:
Has the Mori faction succeeded in snookering the anti-Koizumi forces?
It has dawned on some of the brighter Tarōs and Osamus of the Tsūshima, former Horiuchi and Kōmura factions that something is amiss. Finance Minister Tanigaki, Foreign Minister Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe have all made clear their intention to run in the September LDP presidential election. They are already campaigning hard. Abe releases his manifesto,
Fukuda Yasuo, the presumed #2 man in the race, has not announced anything. If he is running for the party presidency, he is running a stealth campaign, invisible even to his assumed allies.
Which brings up the possibility that Fukuda--who at 70 years of age has always been odd man out among the main candidates for the prime ministership---has been playing the role of Pied Piper of Hamlin for those opposed to Abe's ascension. By staking out the position of the anti-Abe, he has kept the anti-Koizumi forces in the party from fielding a challenger of their own. Indeed, he has been stealing oxygen from the campaigns of Aso and Tanigaki.
The possibility that Fukuda may decide to forego a run for the presidency is so threatening to the anti-Koizumi cause its members can scarcely even bring themselves to think about it.
Even if they wake up to their worst nightmare tomorrow, they have no time to concoct a remedy.
We are in mid-July. The Diet is not in session. In two weeks the country shuts down for what is may be the biggest blowout August in memory (the nation has spent the last 15 years in self-denial and self-abnegation). The LDP election is slated for the second week in September.
If Fukuda turns out to have been a stalking horse for Abe, the anti-Koizumi folks lose--which means Koizumi wins...again.
Sic transit ...
When the Koizumi biography is written (probably long before the Hashimoto Ryutarō biography is written, which is too bad, as Hashimoto's life and death offer a far more interesting narrative arc) I hope the author notes that one of the keys to Koizumi's success was an ability to take advantage of individuals who thought they knew more than they really knew.
Now this speculation about Fukuda may all end up having been just paranoid fantasy. He may decide "damn the faction, policy demands I go ahead!" and announce his bid in the next few days. The Hoshi op-ed indeed begs Fukuda to run, for the sake of salvaging Japan's relations with its East Asian neighbors.
But if Fukuda's candidacy is really only just a big setup, what a sweet story that would be.