Be careful what you wish for. It’s the oldest adage in the book but surely dead right in today’s political climate.
Take the position of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, for starters. After his party’s recent mauling in the Yamaguchi by-election and the restoration of the resented gasoline tax, the talk inevitably is of how much longer the man can hang on in office.
Yet the problems facing Japan’s ruling Liberal-Democratic Party go far deeper than merely calling for the serving up of Fukuda’s head on a platter. Nothing is going to be solved by simply blaming the incumbent premier for the party’s recent failings. Of course, Fukuda should be held partly responsible for policy flops and over his inability to display much confidence in the nation’s economic prospects but who can do any better? The LDP hardly gives the impression of knowing where it is going or having an abundance of potential leaders waiting in the wings to assume office.
The party’s tried and tested tactical move of quietly putting its failures out to grass and then lining up suitable successors is not likely to wash much longer. The revolving door principle of both the pre and post-Koizumi eras is pretty well used up with a public that sees through the old ploy of simply switching leaders when the opinion polls begin to register really dire numbers.
The basic question surely for the LDP is how to stop the rot and present decent reasons why it should have an almost god-given right to run the show. The longer it fails to confront its structural problems, the easier it ought to be for Ichiro Ozawa’s Democratic Party of Japan to win the crown in the next general election. Perhaps the surprise for outsiders, though, is that it continues to take so long to see any substantial shift in the Japanese political climate. After all, political scientists have been dreaming up scenarios for decades on how and when an opposition party could destroy the conservatives and finally make that all-important breakthrough into office, yet it has still to happen.
Dropping the pilot remains the conventional way ahead for the LDP. Yet, shoving Fukuda overboard does not begin to tackle the party’s mega-problems. It needs to recall how former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was able to widen the party’s appeal by incorporating many more previously uncommitted urban, younger voters and through repeating time and time again his “reform” mantra. The result was a whopping success thanks to Koizumi’s determination to chastise important elements in the party he was actually purporting to lead. It is this invaluable electoral cushion in the lower house of the Diet that allows his party to soften current attacks from the DPJ.
Since there does not appear to be anyone of Koizumi’s magnetism on the horizon, the LDP might just as well let Fukuda soldier on for now. His eventual successor -- perhaps in 2009 and certainly well after Japan’s hosting of the prestigious G-8 summit in Hokkaido -- needs to present much more than simply a fresh face.
To combat the DPJ, the LDP will have to spell out concrete economic and welfare policies that attempt to bring more of the electorate within its umbrella. The old backroom approaches won’t wash when the prime minister of the day has to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the opposition and knows that a less deferential public may be prepared to risk voting for the present opposition rather than continue to give the conservatives the benefit of the doubt.
Since it is far too risky for the LDP to assume that sooner or later the DPF will implode thanks either to disunity or to more tantrums from its leader, now might be the time for Fukuda’s party to turn its back on business as usual. It is not a new leader but a greater show of competence that might yet confound the critics and keep the longest running show in the democratic world on the road.© Japan Today