Will the LDP land on its feet Sept. 11?

by Reiji Yoshida

A showdown has begun for the Sept. 11 House of Representatives election, a poll that may witness a drastic change in the political landscape.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, however, appears bent on breaking up the Liberal Democratic Party, which he heads, and endangering its hold on power by purging all LDP Lower House members who opposed his postal privatization project.

Here are some basic questions and answers about what is going on in the LDP and the prospects for the election:

Why did Koizumi dissolve the Lower House Monday and call an election?

Koizumi merely followed up on his threat to do this after the Upper House voted down the bills. His main focus for more than a decade has been privatizing the national postal service. It is the centerpiece of his program to reform the government. Each time he ran for the LDP presidency — in 1995, 1998 and 2001 — he promised to privatize the state-run postal services, saying the 330 trillion yen in the postal savings and insurance systems should be funneled into the private sector.

Why did he dissolve the Lower House when it was the Upper House that killed the bills?

A prime minister can only dissolve the Lower House. The chamber has the final say in choosing a prime minister. Koizumi is trying to make the election a quasi-plebiscite to ask voters to vote for or against his postal privatization plan. Even though the bills cleared the lower chamber, many in the LDP voted against them, as was the case when they were rejected in the upper chamber Monday.

What will the campaigns focus on?

Koizumi wants postal privatization to be the main issue, but the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, is now trying to focus voter attention on the “wasteful use of taxpayer money.” The DPJ has pledged to cut 10 trillion yen in government expenses over three years.

But the real focus could become the power struggle within the LDP for leadership of the party.

Koizumi is now trying to label all LDP Lower House members who voted against his postal package “antireformers” and, as party president, he is refusing to endorse them as LDP candidates.

Meanwhile, most of Koizumi’s party opponents apparently hope to stay in the LDP after ousting Koizumi if the party suffers a setback at the polls. Koizumi has pledged to step down if the LDP-New Komeito coalition fails to win a majority of the 480 Lower House seats.

At least 12 of the LDP prefectural chapters now plan to back postal rebels in the election even if party headquarters refuse to back their candidacy. Why has this happened and what are the implications?

Many LDP Lower House members boast strong campaign organizations, which operate independently.

Sometimes more than one candidate is vying to be the official LDP candidate in a constituency. The party usually lets the local chapter handle the matter, sometimes allowing one person to run as the LDP member and the other as an independent.

In the past, the LDP often has allowed the winner to join the party, even if the candidate ran as an independent.

But Koizumi’s determination to keep his LDP foes off the LDP ticket will probably likely to deepen the internal rift, making it difficult for them to stay in the party even if after the election.

The internal strife is also likely to split conservative votes and work in the favor of DPJ candidates.

How is the Lower House organized and how does the election work?

The 480-seat chamber has 300 single-seat constituencies and a 180 seats elected via proportional representation system.

The 180 seats, divided into 11 regional blocs, are distributed proportionally to each party according to the total number of votes a party gets.