Japan readies itself for an unpredictable ballot

The ruling party’s leadership contest may matter more than the next national election | Asia

9/26/2021 8:55:00 AM

The four candidates for the presidency of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party make for an unusually eclectic cast

The ruling party’s leadership contest may matter more than the next national election | Asia

LDPhas won the past six national elections and established firm control over both houses of Japan’s Diet. The remains of theDPJcoalesced into theCDPin 2017, but the new party has proved unable to mount a serious challenge. It currently holds 113 seats in the lower house to the

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LDPTheLDP’s ham-fisted handling of the pandemic seemed to open a window, however small, for more serious political competition. Japanese voters have a history of showing up in droves when their frustration spills over. They did so repeatedly in local contests this year, most recently in August when they elected an opposition candidate as mayor of Yokohama over one backed by Mr Suga. Over the summer, some

LDPmembers fretted they might go from their current supermajority to having to expand their coalition to stay in power. “It’s scary,” one admitted.When the unpopular Mr Suga resigned last month, theLDPhoped it would help to placate the public, which, despite its frustration, remains wary of radical change. It appears to be working. The opposition parties, which had been somewhat hopeful of making advances before his resignation, are now clamouring to get noticed in the media. Support for the headtopics.com

LDPhas risen nearly 10% in some polls since the resignation; the Tokyo stock market has been rising in anticipation of a new leader.Mr Kono, a former foreign and defence minister who now serves as the government’s vaccine tsar, seems to represent the best prospect for a meaningful shift in style, if not in substance. He leads the polls among the general public. He has built a reputation as a maverick willing to challenge the

LDP’s entrenched ways. The party’s younger members tend to support him.Yet even Mr Kono has been forced to confront the realities ofLDPpolitics. In a press conference announcing his candidacy, he softened his opposition to nuclear power and played down his openness to allowing female heirs in the imperial family, two issues that had been symbols of his free thinking. Party elders nonetheless remain wary of him and are said to prefer the more pliable Mr Kishida.

Mr Kono’s best chance lies in winning an outright majority in the first round of theLDPelection, where parliamentarians and the party’s rank-and-file are given equal weight. If he fails to do so, he will have to prevail in a run-off where Diet members’ votes have far more weight. There, the result will probably hinge on power struggles and internal party rivalries. Mr Kishida, the likely second-place finisher, could yet prevail. (Ms Takaichi is seen as having an outside chance at advancing; Ms Noda has virtually none.)

The first task for the eventual winner will be to lead the party in the lower-house elections. While theLDPmay lose some seats, the defeats are likely to be smaller than many in the party expected with Mr Suga at the helm. But unless theLDP’s next leader can connect with the public, he or she may last no longer than Mr Suga did. Voters will have a chance to issue another verdict in upper-house elections which loom next summer. headtopics.com

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