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LDP to be ‘only shadow of itself’ after Sunday

Date Posted: 2009-08-27

The Liberal Democratic Party was at the top of the heap in 2005, soaring in the eyes of a public that adored Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Four years later, Koizumi is gone, Yasuo Fukuda’s gone, Shinzo Abe’s gone. The stars have tarnished and the LDP is floundering under the leadership of current Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose popularity and support have plummeted ever since he took office a year ago. Political scientists are studying how it all came apart, since Aso only 11 months ago scored a landslide win in the LDP presidential election.

Waseda University’s Etsushi Tanifuji says Aso’s ride to power was on name recognition. The political science professor doesn’t think Aso ever had true public support, and says “when it came to choosing a leader after Fukuda, Aso’s name came up.” With the breakdown in the world economy over the past several years, prime ministers found it more difficult to gain and keep the public’s trust and interest.

Things began well for the LDP with Koizumi, and even after he stepped out of the political spotlight after almost eight years at the helm. Shinzo Abe stepped in, garnered public support numbers approaching 70%, and the LDP was happy until he unexpectedly stepped down citing health reasons after only less than a year as a prime minister. Yasuo Fukuda began his term with poll numbers near 60%, and by the time Aso assumed the mantle, the number was down to 50%. Today, Aso’s numbers are less than dismal, and his cabinet can’t get above a 18.5% approval rating.

What happened? Again, political scientists say it was self-inflicted damage by the LDP, which became enamored with itself and its 296 seats in the Lower House. Under Koizumi, it held together during the battle to privatize the postal system, although many within the LDP opposed the concept. Some say Abe made mistakes by letting the postal system opponents who stirred up trouble come back into the party fold.

Political scandals, coupled with runaway mouths on the part of both Cabinet ministers and top LDP leaders began raising eyebrows. In less than a year, Abe watched his agriculture minister, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, commit suicide amidst allegations of bid rigging and massive office expenses, another two cabinet ministers replaced, and his ability to lead diminished. Abe resigned only two months after the July 2007 Upper House election saw the LDP lose its majority in that chamber.

What happens now is an interesting question. Professor Tanifuji thinks “the LDP just lazily switched leaders from Abe to Fukuda to Aso” and predicts “people are now thinking this is a time for change.” He and other political scientists think it could be good for the LDP to serve time as the opposition party,

A Meiji Gakuin University professor says there are still many within the party capable of producing a new generation of leaders. Kazuhisa Kawakami predicts “the LDP can use its strong organizational power, which is superior to the DPJ’s, and strengthen its efforts to listen to public opinion.” As long as the country sticks to the single-seat election constituencies, Kawakami says “it is definitely possible for the LDP to retake the helm of government.”

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