While the five candidates vying for the position of president of the Liberal Democratic Party pout and preen for the cameras, Democratic Party of Japan Leader Ozawa Ichirō has been preparing his own party and its allies for an all-out battle in the House of Representative districts.
In the past few days we have seen the feelgood failure of the merger the anti-reform People's New Party (on a technicality, not a matter of policy); the recruitment of Hepatitis C poster child Fukuda Eriko to run in Nagasaki #2 district against chronic gaffemeister and hideous calligrapher Kyūma Fumio*; the sudden quiet reassignment of youthful Ōta Kazumi from the Chiba #7 seat to the Fukushima #2 (Ōta's unexpected victory in the April 2006 Chiba #7 by-election had been the first serious reversal of LDP's winning ways in the last years of the Koizumi Era); and the DPJ's stunning capture of the endorsement of the Ibaraki Prefecture Medical Association, the reward for the DPJ's opportunistic opposition to the new over-75 years of age eldercare system -- a switching of allegiance so shattering to the LDP that party bigwigs have sent Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare on a mad scramble to junk the reform (Japanese only).
While the more cynical among the commentariat may see Ozawa's flurry of moves as an attempt to steal the media spotlight away from the LDP leadership race, Ozawa may actually be unveiling his grand strategy for countering the LDP's significant advantages in the district elections. By promising the moon to all who have lost in from The Reforms and recruiting anyone and everyone hurt by The System, Ozawa is lashing his own bumptious party together with the ideological potpourri of the People's New Party, the Socialists and Communists. The result is an angry, broad-based, below-the-Nagatachō-radar movement with a winning campaign theme:
"The DPJ and Friends - Fighting As One for the Disdained and the Disenfranchised!"
A bit wordy - but you get the picture. No rural vs. urban dichotomy, the usual fracture line of the Japanese polity. No division between the winners in the economic reforms and the losers: everyone is aggrieved in some way from the way things have turned out -- and all are ready to lash out at The Powers That Be.
Once Asō Tarō clears the hurdle of winning the presidency of the LDP he will have to start thinking seriously about what, if anything, his own ruling coalition will be running on.
What is the advantage of reelecting the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition rather than handing power over to a ragbag army of the nearly powerless and the largely forgotten? Asō cannot point to the LDP's record of responsible, capable leadership. He probably will not attempt to convince the voters that the LDP and the New Kōmeitō should be rewarded for the freshness of their ideas, their unity of purpose or their intellectual heft. He would probably be really on thin ice claiming that only the LDP/New Kōmeitō coalition can meet the challenges posed by the so-called "twisted" Diet.
Keep in mind (because, believe you me, the voters will) that if the ruling coalition wins a majority of seats in the next House of Representatives election, we will be right back where we have been for the last year - with one House under the control of an LDP-led coalition and another under the control a DPJ-led coalition.
A prospect that will not thrill the voters. Trust me.
So what will be the ruling coalition's stirring campaign slogan? "In the distict, vote for the guy (they are almost all guys, so humor me here) whom you have known for all these years and in the bloc, for the party of the glib dude with the distressingly ready smile"?
For after this remarkable LDP leadership race comes to a close tomorrow, that is all the party will have.
* In unintentional tribute to Japan's purported pacifism, Kyūma's odious rendering of "Bōeishō" is now cast in bronze and affixed for all eternity to the gates of the Ministry of Defense.