While I agree with much of what the stupendously productive Japan Observer says most of the time, I think that he is perhaps not giving sufficient thought to what I believe is a major caveat to this post where he criticizes an Asahi Shimbun editorial on the electoral options of the DPJ.
I concede: given the DPJ's own shady members and its multiple paternity, it will be very hard for the party to confront the LDP in the Diet over policy. The running joke--only it is not very funny--is that the DPJ is the mirror image of the LDP, only without the ideological unity or the experience at governing wisely.
Unfortunately, the alternative to Diet theatrics--conducting face-to-face retail politics--may fail to ingnite excitement at the ballot box.
If recent opinion polls are accurate--and that is always a big "if"--then the Prime Minister has reversed the decline in his Cabinet's popularity. The collapse in the Cabinet's ratings was starting to give the LDP rank and file a bad case of the jitters during the winter. Approval ratings rising into the 40%-50% range (53% approval, if were are to believe the Nihon Keizai Shimbun) are by contrast very favorable, even by the lofty standards set by the prime ministership of Koizumi Jun'ichirō.
General approval rating numbers are indicators of the likely voting patterns of the non-aligned electorate. When the prime minister is popular, the non-aligned vote is largely complacent and tends to vote along patronage and log rolling lines. When the prime minister is unpopular, the non-aligned vote rushes into the arms of the largest and best organizse secular opposition party so as to punish the Cabinet.
If the current Cabinet approval ratings hold--and there is no reason to doubt that they will--then the DPJ cannot pin its hopes on winning thanks to the protest vote. The protest vote will not be there.
If the party cannot rely on the protest vote then it will need to provide an actual policy platform in opposition to the Cabinet's platform. The platform has to be credible and it has to be distinctive.
I wish the DPJ luck. As the Observer notes in his post, getting all the various members of the DPJ to sing from the same sheet of music is a nightmare.