LDP needs leader who can rule roost
The Liberal Democratic Party officially announced Friday the date of its presidential election. This will be a golden opportunity for the former ruling party to restart from scratch after its historic defeat in the recent House of Representatives election.
Former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, former Senior Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono and Yasutoshi Nishimura, former parliamentary vice foreign minister, have filed their candidacies for the election.
The party has decided that votes will be cast and counted on Sept. 28. We hope the three candidates will use the time available to tell party members in plain language just how they plan to reform the party--and what kind of bitter medicine the LDP will have to swallow during the reform process. They must demonstrate they possess the leadership needed to help the party overcome the biggest crisis in its history.
Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe, who was considered a top contender to succeed former Prime Minister Taro Aso, and former Construction and Transport Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, who ran in last autumn's LDP presidential election, announced earlier they would not throw their hats in the ring.
Some observers believe that Masuzoe and Ishihara decided not to run this time because, even if elected, the next LDP president could not become prime minister as there is no prospect of the party returning to power any time soon.
Might not be a 'next time'
However, the party is not in a situation where it can optimistically assume there will be a "next time."
The only other time the LDP found itself booted into the opposition was when the administration of Morihiro Hosokawa was launched in 1993. However, the LDP returned to the ruling bloc about 10 months later. At that time, the party was the largest force in both Diet chambers.
The situation is completely different today: The Democratic Party of Japan is the strongest presence in both houses.
Six prefectures including Niigata Prefecture have no LDP representative in the lower house. Iwate and two other prefectures have no LDP member in either Diet house. It is no stretch of the imagination to assume that pro-LDP industry organizations and local assembly members will gradually start leaning toward the DPJ and eventually become loyal supporters of the current ruling party.
The LDP increased the number of votes given to representatives of prefectural chapters for the upcoming presidential election to 300 from the previous election's 141. It also will hold open debate meetings across the country. These measures reflect the party's recognition that there will not be a "next time" if its Diet members, local assembly members and rank-and-filers are not on the same page when it comes to rebuilding the party.
The three candidates said they will end the huge influence that factions hold over party management and personnel matters, and that incumbents will be given priority in the selection of election candidates. However, the necessity of such changes has been pointed out each time the party has been defeated in an election. It is natural that the party should carry out such reforms--this time could be the last chance to do so.
Time to start rebuilding
More importantly, LDP members should start by bracing themselves for a lengthy stay on the opposition benches. Accepting this sobering likelihood will be the first step in strengthening the party to a point where it can carry out political activities, steadily and tenaciously, across the nation.
Government subsidies to the party are expected to plunge from about 15.7 billion yen before the lower house election to about 10.4 billion yen. The LDP will have little option but to slash the number of party staffers and members' secretaries. If the party is serious about winning next summer's House of Councillors election, it should not hesitate to make sweeping changes to its list of would-be candidates if necessary.
Such actions could invite a fierce backlash and even lead to a split in the party if they are not handled properly. Even so, the LDP needs a leader who can convince any skeptics within the party to get on board, and, if push comes to shove, overcome any defiance.
Even if a successful candidate obtains the support of local assembly members and rank-and-file party members, the LDP will be viewed by many people as a "political party incapable of transforming itself" if the new LDP president ducks important national issues by focusing on such matters as dispensing with factions or ushering in a generational change in the party.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 19, 2009)