Japan's ruling political party is in almighty trouble. Liberal Democratic Premier Taro Aso is desperately unpopular, the party has just lost control of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly and its own bigwigs are squabbling among themselves as the prospect of defeat in the upcoming general election grows more probable day by day.
Certainly we have been here before, but this time there really does appear to be little hope of yet another great escape. Nothing, of course, should be completely ruled out and there is still more than a month before polling in which the seemingly doomed conservatives will try desperately to escape the hangman's noose. No one should count Japan's conservatives out entirely until after Aug 30's results are known and all informal backroom deals have been settled.
Yet few would deny that the LDP has been in decline for decades and that the opportunities for last-minute compromises and the cobbling together of seemingly improbable alliances are now slimmer than ever before. This time it looks like curtains for the LDP. Indeed you can bet your boots that some aspiring political scientist at Stamford or Sheffield will soon be telling us that the manner in which the LDP had managed to cling onto power for all but a few months since 1955 is the real story. Its eventual collapse in 2009 would then be seen as merely confirmation of existing electoral trends that no human could reverse for long.
The LDP's mega-problems simply won't go away. Since the glory days of photogenic Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who enjoyed saying that he was in the business of fighting elements within his own party, the party has failed to find anyone who was capable of even a modicum of leadership.
Not surprisingly, overseas audiences have trouble keeping up with the present revolving-door system whereby an LDP gent gains and then quickly loses the keys of the kingdom. Senior politicians within the G-8 system are reported to have had similar misgivings, arguing that it is almost counterproductive to cultivate recent Japanese premiers as they are so quickly replaced by yet another short-term individual. Since Mr Aso's days look numbered, the present system of appointing a new prime minister nearly every year can only continue regardless of who wins on Aug 30.
Aso, a scion of Shigeru Yoshida ,surely Japan's most distinguished postwar political figure, has achieved little in his months in office. His 12,000 yen handouts -- more in some cases -- that are now trickling through to the bank accounts of all residents may well help at the margin but he can hardly deny the economic storms that the nation faces.
With deflation back, industrial output down and jobless numbers up, it would take an exceptional political party in any democracy to win under such circumstances. Yet the LDP's problems are compounded by its familiar squabbling, the limit to how many seats its junior partner in office can deliver and, above all else, a seeming willingness among the large, urban-based, "floating" vote to back the opposition Democratic Party this time.
There may be little genuine enthusiasm for Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party; many reckon that it, too, has its fair share of dissidents and could yet implode, but the general sentiment appears to be that it is finally time for a change. The conservatives have only themselves to blame if, as expected, the public's current alienation is translated into a vote for the Democrats. Politics in Japan this autumn should certainly be worth following: interesting times lie ahead.© Japan Today