Friday, August 14, 2009

The LDP's Independent Social Contractors

It is a meeting of the prospective Liberal Democratic Party candidates for the prefecture and their support organizations. The mood is anything but buoyant. The odds of the LDP doing anything but abysmally in the prefecture are slim. The candidates face a possibly Sisyphean task. They need cheering up.

Just then, from the stage, the invited speaker tells the assembled:

"You know, it isn't that bad to be in the opposition every once in a while."

"Over the past 50 years, nearly without interruption, the LDP has been in charge of the government. However, in democratic societies, this situation has been an exception among exceptions. In places where there are free and fair elections, a transfer of power from one party to another is presumed."
Normally for the assembled, pummeled by bad poll numbers and constant negative messages in the press, such a realistic assessment would be last thing they would want to hear.

However, learning to live with defeat is exactly what former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō counseled prospective Kanagawa Prefecture LDP candidates to do last Thursday. And interestingly, according to an article in the evening edition of the Tokyo Shimbun yesterday many of the candidates in the running agree with him.

Matsumoto Jun, the LDP candidate for the Kanagawa #1 district (Yokohama) is quoted as saying:

"If you assess the situation dispassionately, there is the possibility of falling into the minority, sure. What I am hearing in his words of encouragement are `You must act with firmness' in good times and bad, rising up above the roiling waves."
More interestingly, Sakurai Ikuzō, the LDP candidate in Kanazawa #12 (Fujisawa City) is quoted as saying:

"Koizumi-san and I feel the same way. Since we have a two party system a change in governments (seiken kōtai) is assumed. Job #1 for me is getting myself elected. My getting myself elected is my contribution to the party."
Sakurai's quote highlights the disciplinary problems the LDP may face post-election, even if the party's candidates do better in the district elections than current media reporting suggests. All the public opinion polls suggest that the major factor spelling the difference between victory and defeat for the Democratic Party of Japan candidates is voters voting for the party, not the person. In the most recent Tokyo Metropolitan District elections, unknown DPJ newcomers in their thirties and twenties buried long-serving LDP incumbents. By contrast, nearly every single LDP candidate who wins a seat on August 30 will be doing so in spite of his or her party affiliation. While the tendency of voting for the individual, not the party, has long been a characteristic of LDP politics and Japanese politics in general, this time, active disassociation from the party will be the determining or perhaps sole factor spelling the difference between defeat or failure for many contesting for seats under the LDP banner.

Which begs the questions of what kind of party organization one can hope have or party loyalty one can hope to enforce post-election when the victorious Diet seat holders are being selected based how little the voters cared about the candidate's party affiliation. I can imagine the awkward one-on-one meeting, post-August 30:

"Yes, Francisco, I survived, no thanks to you or the rest of the party, thank you very much. I had to work my tail off trying to cover up my own party affiliation. No, as a consequence, I am not going to do as I am told. That goes for whatever you, the General Council or even the head of my faction says. In fact, since I had to run against the headwinds all of you created, I suggest you should all take a long walk off a short pier."
As for the chances that an LDP candidate will be able to survive just on his or her personality and reputation, the odds are not looking too great, in the aggregate. As noted in my post on the FNN-Sankei Shimbun public opinion poll, about 32% of the voters intend to base their choice in the district election on the identity of the candidate...not bad...except that 50% say they will make their choice based on party affiliation.

Now some of those in the 50% voting for a candidate based upon party affiliation are LDP true believers. Furthermore in certain, over-represented regions -- the Chūgoku, the Hokuriku-Shin'etsu -- a majority of voters may be voting for the person rather than the party, meaning that the LDP can be miserably unpopular and still expect its candidates to win a significant number of district seats.

Nevertheless, those LDP candidates who do win a district seat will truly own it. They will owe nothing to the LDP. Indeed the LDP will owe them.

Given that reality -- that the district seat holders will, like Sakurai says above, fulfill their obligations to the party merely through the act of getting elected -- what are the chances of the LDP holding together, post-election, especially if the DPJ and its partners win control of the government?

1 comment:

Joe said...

It looks like Koizumi's long ago pledge to "destroy the LDP" is coming to fruition. It sounds corny to talk about a politician like this, but I wonder how much of the LDP's current state of affairs Jun-chan foresaw? Or perhaps even planned (again, forgive the corniness)?