For a government that has at various times tried to distinguish itself as putting policy before politics, the Asō government now closely resembles an immunocompromised patient desperately trying to fend off opportunistic infections, with the infections being political disorder within the LDP. It bears noting that the DPJ has played little or no role in the terminal crisis of the Asō government — indeed, the DPJ nearly resuscitated the government by allowing Ichirō Ozawa to stay on as long as he did. But now the DPJ needs to do little more than sit back and let the LDP destroy itself and can in fact help the process along by speedily voting on the government's agenda in the Upper House to force the question of the timing of the general election.
In the meantime, the latest crisis facing the prime minister is whether the LDP should move up the date of the LDP presidential election scheduled for September, which would give Asō's opponents a chance to replace him.
Taku Yamamoto, an LDP Lower House member, has received eighty-two signatures on his petition calling for rescheduling the party election, and another 26 LDP members have voiced their agreement orally. As with each of these crises (or "infections"), senior government and party officials have given their opinion on the matter. Takeo Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary, rejected the idea outright and warned that it would undermine the government and the LDP. Shinzō Abe, now something of an expert on the impact of cascading crises within the LDP, came to the prime minister's defense too, suggesting that if the LDP were to change leaders again, the public would (rightly, I think) receive it as an act of deception on the part of the LDP. Yoichi Masuzoe, the independent-minded health, welfare, and labor minister, refused to say no to an early leadership election, saying that it is the party's decision to make (perhaps a sign of Masuzoe's intentions?).
It is unlikely that this debate will change the prime minister's mind one way or another, but with each passing day, with each broadside, the LDP slides deeper into crisis. Each attempt by a senior party leader to extract the party from the morass reinforces the image of a party characterized by deep and irresolvable schisms — and a prime minister once again in need of reading material to take his mind off his troubles. (Although perhaps he's not reading for distraction after all: one of his recent purchases is a book about his grandfather's time in office, purchased along with his usual diet of conservative tracts.)
In all likelihood Tarō Asō will survive to lead the LDP into the general election; the movement to overthrow will likely do little more than cripple the LDP, reinforcing the image of a governing party incapable of governing itself, let alone Japan.
Other posts by Tobias Harris: