Aso clings on to power – for now

Aso clings on to power – for now

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But Finance Minister & over 100 MPs wanted him to quit

These are desperate times for the ruling party – the PM is deeply unpopular, polls indicate it will lose the next election badly, there has been a messy cabinet reshuffle and there is a groundswell among the party’s MPs for a new leader to take over.

All of this is very familiar from British politics, but is currently being played out in Tokyo as well as London. The LDP, one of the world’s traditional governing parties and ruling Japan for nearly all of the last 50 years, is seeking desperately to cling on to power ahead of a general election that is now set to take place on Sunday 30th August, following its defeat in last Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan election, where it failed to become the largest party for the first time since 1965.

Whether Labour here will see its third PM this term is a moot point, but the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party, but rather more to the right than the UK Lib Dems) is already on its fourth – Koizumi, Abe, Fukuda, Aso – and looks to have narrowly avoided a fifth leader this term, as Aso has called a general election before he could be ousted as party leader – and news that he turned to a former comedian for help is surely the sound of a barrel being scraped in the last-chance saloon.

Finance Minister Yosano was among the more than 100 MPs who were thought to be in favour of ditching Aso ahead of the election, but Tuesday’s meeting of the parliamentary LDP will be an informal not a formal one, meaning that no vote can be taken on the leadership – those seeking to have a vote fell short, according to party officials, of the 128 signatures required to force a formal meeting. The House of Representatives will be formally dissolved shortly afterwards, on Tuesday afternoon.

The opposition DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) gave the LDP a brief respite when leader Ozawa became embroiled in a corruption scandal earlier this year, but the DPJ managed to recover, with Ozawa falling on his sword, and the party picking Yukio Hatoyama as the new leader in just a few weeks. For the DPJ, with all the troubles of the LDP and Japan’s economic woes, 2009 is what 2007 was for the SNP – an “if they can’t win now, then when?” election.

The LDP is probably set to lose power regardless of who their leader is – but unlike Labour here still might, they’ve been unable to try a “hail mary” pass towards the end of the game with a fresh face that might just change things. However, with the innate conservatism of the Japanese electorate, the election result might not be reflective of the opinion polls. As we’ve seen in the UK, telling a pollster you’ll vote for a party and actually putting a cross in their box on the ballot paper are two different things – but the smart money now must surely be on the once-mighty LDP losing their iron grip on power.

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