Remember this guy, the one with the aura of power about him?
Well, he's still looking up and to the left...but this time, he looks somewhat more concerned that something big and bad is about to hit him.
How did it come to this, where even the Yomiuri Shimbun, the national daily whose relationship with the current Cabinet is at best sycophantic (at worst it is a dirty word not suitable for a family blog) depicts the PM in a cartoon as a sweaty pol, desperate to power up his rule by means of an extention cord?
At least half of the blame can be attributed to two greedy and sweaty House of Councillors bigwigs, depicted below as being now so ever reluctant to open up the Diet session extension omikuji brought to them by the callow Abe Shinzō.
For it was Aoki Mikio and Katayama Toranosuke who put the pressure on Abe (not that there was not much pressure needed) to reinstate the former LDP members Koizumi Jun'ichirō had expelled from the party .
In truth, while twelve former members were sent invitations to rejoin the party, Aoki and Katayama were only interested in one of them:
The one member of the twelve who in the end refused to sign a letter of apology--and who in the end was refused readmittance.
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The problem, you see, is that Katayama Toranosuke faces reelection this year.
Katayama is the #2 guy for the LDP in the House of Councillors. For a big time power broker in the Chūgoku region, reelection should be a sleepwalk.
Unfortunately, Katayama has a unique problem: the number of enraged chipmunks, his natural constituency (you think I am exaggerating? Check out this photo--or better yet this caricature) is rather small for a prefecture the size of Okayama.
Their numbers cannot make up for the fact that most sane human beings cannot stand the guy.
Now Katayama had won handily in 2001, crushing his closest rival by 260,000 votes.--which in terms of Okayama's population means by a margin of 2 to 1.
This time around, however, he faces a rather more popular opponent than in 2001.
More importantly, about 120,000 of his votes in 2001 came from House of Representatives District 3 and another 120,000 came from District 4.
District 4 is the city of Kurashiki. In 2001 it was still represented in the Diet by former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryūtarō. But Hashimoto resigned from the Diet in disgrace as a result of the dental funds scandal and died a horrible death last year. The city is now firmly in Democratic hands.
District 3 is--yes, you are way ahead of me--Hiranuma Takeo's district.
If Hiranuma did his all for Katayama's opponent--this in order to spite the LDP that had expelled him--or if he just sat on his hands, telling his supporters to vote their conscience--then Katayama was likely a goner.
So in order to save Katayama's political skin (and what an expansive and expensive skin it has turned out to be) Abe had to send Nakagawa Hidenao (Nakagawa the Sane) to negotiate with Hiranuma the terms under which he and the rest of the Dirty Dozen could return to the LDP.
A move so unnecessary in numeric terms, given the size of the LDP's majority in the House of Representatives, that the public immediately reacted with horror.
Rather than dropping the idea right then and there, as the LDP leadership should have, it persisted, with Nakagawa and Hiranuma going at it, round after humiliating round.
Finally, Nakagawa, in order to salvage something of the party's reputation, the one he and Koizumi had built up through the expulsion of the rebels, demanded that anyone seeking readmittance to the LDP had to sign a letter saying that he or she had been wrong in opposing the privatization law.
A letter each and every one of the Dirty Dozen signed, except Hiranuma Takeo.
For him...it was just too demeaning. Indeed, he demanded that the LDP apologize to him for expelling him.
So all of the effort, the selling of the soul of the party, the besmirching of the Abe administration's image went to waste.
But fate was not finished with the LDP leadership.
For not two days after failing to lure the dark prince of Okayama back into the bosom of the LDP, Hiranuma suffered a massive stroke.
He was out of commission--and now his support group had a real axe to grind.
You think Katayama was nervous before? Guess how he felt when it looked as though the LDP had not just expelled Hiranuma--a close personal friend of the PM and a longtime fellow traveler in conservative reactionary circles--but had basically killed him?
But Hiranuma, while non compos mentes for a long while, has come back from the dark side. He is once again lurking in the halls of the Diet, though with more than a bit of hesitancy and a certain fragility.
And somewhere in the process of recovery, his vengefulness evaporated. He asked his supporters to vote for Katayama--meaning that he with the chubbiest cheeks in the House of Councillors is probably going to sleepwalk to victory after all.
Not that any of this is going to help Abe Shinzō, whose reputation had had to be tarnished before it had ever been allowed to shine.
* * *
And the other half of the blame...well, that is a story for tomorrow.