Abe to quit in May??

Hot off of Kikko’s Blog (via Livedoor News but not a direct translation, just a summary of the report with my own commentary):

Rumors are being reported that Prime Minister Abe, who within weeks after taking office had already started mentioning goals for a second term, might be forced to step down in May, after an assumed poor showing in April local elections. A Livedoor News article reports that “voices within the LDP” are calling for his resignation before the Upper House electios in July. He and his team have become a lightning rod for scandals, some of which we’ve detailed (faked town meetings, faltering on tax reforms, scandals among his policy team etc).

The new prime minister could take office after the end of the regular Diet session, allowing Abe to save face. This would follow the same pattern as even less popular PM Yoshiro Mori in 2001.

The most likely successor to Abe is Foreign Minister Taro Aso, an LDP more senior and even more right-wing than Abe, who earned more rank and file LDP member support than expected in his run against Abe in September. He has hardly stopped campaigning since, coming out with major foreign policy objectives and announcing the formation of his own intraparty faction just last week. The likely rival to Aso would be Yasuo Fukuda, whose candidacy in the last election sputtered for its low prospects of victory and health concerns. A source quoted in the article suggested that Koizumi could even make a comeback. Oh, I can only pray that happens…

13 thoughts on “Abe to quit in May??”

  1. Aso becoming PM almost sounds like a scare tactic. Maybe Kikko has an ulterior motive here. Then again, Japan has survived with nutcase leaders before…

  2. The Livedoor reporter and some bloggers, not Kikko, mentioned Aso as a possibility, and I personally think Aso has been continuing his campaign for LDP president while in office. He’s a real contender and perhaps Japan’s first leader that 2ch helped popularize. Of course, I’d much much rather see Koizumi back in office.

    A possible motive for this sort of report might be to influence whatever staff changes Abe might be considering for the new year. There are people who don’t like Shiozaki in the Chief Cabinet Secretary position (such as Mori) and think he’s doing a bad job of message management.

  3. Ooooooooo! I hope Fukuda becomes PM. I have an ulterior motive too. I met him last week and have a picture of me sitting next to him on his sofa.
    In any case, I think he’s a much better candidate than Aso, but the usual pundits overseas will probably greet his selection (appointment) with the usual complaint that he’s not exciting enough to be a prime minister if he gets in.

  4. I wonder if Aso’s decision to set up his own faction will hurt his chances if it comes to a leadership contest. There are only 11 guys (I think) whose votes he can definitely count on.

  5. Puh-leeeeeze. This shit comes up in US politics all the time, and people still bite: “Bush picked Cheney for VP but will replace him at the last minute with Powell! Wesley Clark is a stalking horse and sock puppet for Hillary Clinton’s surprise candidacy! McCain will run as an independent and select Kerry as his running mate!” It’s fun to read speculation like this on blogs during the slow news season, just don’t take it seriously.

    The Upper House elections are a hurdle, but the LDP doesn’t have the balls to force out a PM, certainly not someone like Abe. Heck, even an inside campaign to oust Mori when he had single-digit popularity ratings failed. As for a successor, Aso doesn’t have the right personality, nor do half the prep school bozos in Abe’s cabinet. Fukuda maybe. But Abe will last out this year unless if something nuts happens.

  6. Yup, to my knowledge 11 of the 15 members of Aso’s faction (I was wrong in stating his faction consisted of only 11 before) came from some other faction. My point though is that highlighting the notion that the faction is his creation might serve to promote friction between himself and the other faction leaders should Aso ever aspire to the post of PM.

    Can’t the Mori challenge failure be explained more in terms of Kato being seen by his fellow party members as a bit too flash than as a reluctance to drop Mori?

  7. Bryce:

    In re the Aso faction, I’m not sure that numbers equals strength of influence in Japan’s political world. Aso may now be perfectly positioned if the Mori faction is decimated by scandal or policy failure. Since Mori is overwhelmingly the largest faction, and internal struggles define who lead the faction, it may be better to create leadership and an alternative if and when that faction fail. Mori is huge now because it is the most powerful faction — just look at all the “children” who joined up after the 2005 election. However, it could crumble fast the moment it appears weak, and I’d bet many of the junior members would flee like rabbits. In such a case, Aso’s faction may be the number one alternative for those diet members to join.

    In re the 2001 challenge to Mori, Japanese sources on the topic that I have read make it seem that it was top-down leadership pressure that quelched the uprising, with Party Chief Nonaka threatening those who backed the “YK” rebels with expulsion and initial support for Kato in the younger, reform-minded ranks dying down after the leadership came down hard. Also, I don’t think it was ever certain that Kato would replace Mori — Hashimoto was long considered the favorite successor before Koizumi became a candidate.

  8. While the numerical strength of your faction may not be an issue if you are a boring old fuddy-duddy winding his way to the nominal top of the LDP, like, say, Kaifu or Obuchi, it is an issue if you are someone with ideas who tends to rub others up the wrong way, like Aso. Japan’s flashy PMs had all had the support of their own large factions, or have been very very closely associated with others (in the case of the Nakasone-Tanaka faction hook-up). Even Koizumi was closely associated with the Mori faction and his anti-faction rhetoric essentially could be read as ‘lets get rid of all factions in the LDP and turn the whole party into the party of the Mori faction. His non-faction cabinets were indeed heavily weighted towards the Mori faction. Abe’s Dad who, according to Abe inspired him to be PM by not actually ever making it himself, thus leaving behind an unfulfilled destiny (and rather unbelievable sense of entitlement, in my opinion) was also the head of the now Mori faction, and Abe’s granddaddy was its creator. Hmmm. Does that suggest that Abe – not a particularly flashy PM, but one with a tendency to rub others up the wrong way with his petit nationalism – has a vested interest in the strongest faction in the party?

  9. I don’t have anything to say except that Aso isn’t breaking away from the Mori Faction, but transforming the Kono Faction, of which he was a member since 1999, into his own faction — using his own name, and including more people.

    In continuation of my comment above, I think leaving/ending one’s own faction to join the Mori faction now would be the equivalent of buying tech stocks in 1999, i.e. the faction has no where to go but down.

    (Note: of course, the Mori faction is now called the Machimura faction… but just so as not to get confused, I’m using the old name. )

  10. “I don’t have anything to say except that Aso isn’t breaking away from the Mori Faction”

    I wasn’t suggesting that he was, merely that if Aso is going to run around venting his opinions, he is likely to rub many in the Mori (Machimura… a rose by any other name) faction up the wrong way. And currently, without their support, he doesn’t have a shit show of gaining the LDP presidency, no matter how many he can convert to his fold.

    “i.e. the faction has no where to go but down.”

    Possibly, but the last three PMs have been essentially from the Mori faction, and they still have a few items left on their reform agenda. My guess is that they will lose members when they run out of tricks – although Abe is keeping them entertained at the moment with constitutional revision, a major goal of the faction since it belonged to Kishi. Of course, there is always the prospect of some major controversy splitting the faction or some upstart with ambition splitting off to form his own, but such things can’t really be predicted in the long term.

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