It just may end up a lot closer than a lot of people imagine.
First because Fukuda Yasuo has been going out of his way to say the unspeakable:
- that the consumption tax will have to be raised sometime, probably soon
- that the rural-urban economic inequalities are something "to be studied" – which in Bureaucratese means "stared at mutely, doing nothing, until whatever it is goes away or dies"
- that the continuing reduction of public works is a non-negotiable part of the national program toward fiscal balance
- that the resolution of the abductee issue has to put back its proper place among the plethora of Japanese national interests
- that he does not really, really, really want the job (maybe two reallys, but not three).
He really did not need to be so honest...which is another way of saying he really should not have been so honest.
Second because Fukuda's strongest support comes from the leadership of the factions.
The factions are not what they once were. They cannot push you into the victory column at general election time. They do not hand out the fat envelopes of cash—though they do still help you organize successful fund-raising parties. They cannot win you a minister's portfolio—under Koizumi and the first Abe Cabinet you had to win your place yourself through personal or ideological friendliness with the leader and his non-politician advisors.
So tomorrow when the faction leader yells, "Everyone in the van!" a lot of mid-ranking conservative ideologues will say, "It is a secret ballot bozo. I will write whichever name I want."
We already have the spectacle of Hatoyama Kunio defying common sense to play the role of Aso Tarō’s biggest fan. We should expect a lot more defections. The final count of the ballots will likely show a significant gap between the arithmetic sum of the memberships of the factions supporting Fukuda and the actual number of ballot papers with Fukuda's name on it .
Third because the rural prefectural branches have an incentive to go for broke. If they vote for Aso and Aso loses, they will at least be on record as having told the central party apparatus how fed up they are. "If Aso loses and Fukuda goes on to do what he has promised, please don't expect us to do diddly for you in the next House of Representatives election," is another possible message.
(An aside – does anyone else feel a frisson seeing how closely Fukuda's program seems parallel the program DPJ leader Okada Katsuya offered the voters in August-September 2005?)
If certain rural prefectural branches try to curry favor with Fukuda by giving him their support, they will find their self-abnegation as having been for naught. Come what may (well no, probably come February) the rural prefectures will almost certainly get stiffed again in next year's budget.
So why not throw votes away at Aso?