Tokyo Notes

Masuzoe’s Machinations

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Tokyo Notes

Masuzoe’s Machinations

Yoichi Masuzoe turns the heat up on the LDP leader. So what’s he up to?

Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe has been ratcheting up the pressure on embattled opposition party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki this week.

In a speech on Monday he reportedly hinted that Tanigaki should step down, citing the flagging popularity of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Without reform of the party, Masuzoe said he wouldn’t be able to support it, indicating that the other option would be to break up the party.

These comments led to verbal warning from upper house LDP Secretary General Shuzen Tanigawa on Wednesday. The same day, Shigeru Ishiba, chairman of the party’s policy research council, insisted that it was ‘not the time’ to change the LDP president, according to the Japan Times.

Masuzoe is one of the few LDP politicians who enjoys popular pulling power, so he would be a strong candidate for leading the party. But he also has good relations with Yoshimi Watanabe, who broke away from the LDP in January 2009 to form his own party (Your Party), suggesting a destination or ally should Masuzoe bolt from the LDP.

Within the LDP, Masuzoe set up an economics study group last month with an agenda of economic liberalism reminiscent of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi–a move likely to attract younger members of the party. What will be his next move? Everything looks set for a make-or-break political drama.

One of the major dailies, the Asahi Shimbun, however, questioned Masuzoe’s commitment to toppling Tanigaki, citing in today’s edition his reputation for words but not action, and his decision not to fight it out for the LDP presidency after the party’s crushing defeat in last summer’s general election, dashing the hopes of many younger party members.

Masuzoe would have certainly been one of the favorites to take the helm of the party at that time. However, it struck me that by not standing, he was playing a waiting game. Let the post-election leader take the brunt of the bad times, then take over to save the day and the party after a poor showing in this summer’s upper house elections. Alternatively, watch the party implode and set up shop elsewhere.

The present machinations, though, suggest Masuzoe might make a move sooner rather than later.