LDP picks Tanigaki to lead comeback

New party president comes out swinging against Hatoyama

by Masami Ito and Alex Martin

The Liberal Democratic Party elected former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki as its president Monday, giving him the task of guiding back into power a party still stinging from its recent electoral thrashing.

Tanigaki received 300 of the 498 votes cast, while former Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono received 144, and Yasutoshi Nishimura, a relative newcomer who just won his third term, got 54.

Following its birth in 1955, the LDP enjoyed nearly unbroken rule until its crushing defeat in the Aug. 30 Lower House general election.

Tanigaki becomes the second LDP president not to serve concurrently as prime minister. The first was former Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono, who headed the LDP from 1993 to 1995.

After the vote, Tanigaki stood in front of his fellow LDP lawmakers and supporters, vowing to give everything to make the party top dog again.

“I would like to lead the battle, together with the many party members, to regain public trust once again and devote myself completely to my job so that our party will once again take power,” Tanigaki said.

At a news conference following his election, Tanigaki was quick to blast Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, also the president of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Tanigaki accused Hatoyama of failing to provide a clear explanation of dubious fundraising reports over the past four years, including donations credited to deceased people. “Nearly 70 percent of the public has not been convinced by his explanation,” Tanigaki said.

Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University, said Tanigaki’s key goal will be to reform the LDP and prepare to take back control of the government from the DPJ, beginning with next summer’s Upper House election.

“Now that it has lost government power, the party needs a paradigm shift,” Kawakami said. “But if it maintains the sense of being the ruling party, it won’t be able to accomplish anything. . . . Tanigaki will need to prepare to fight with the enemy, the DPJ, but also he must immediately make radical reforms to the party.”

Tanigaki indicated he is aware of this.

“The LDP has based its existence on the premise that it was the governing party,” he said. “But now that we are in the opposition, we need to consider what kind of changes we need to make inside the organization.”

Tanigaki said it may be necessary to create a shadow Cabinet and launch a discussion panel where lawmakers can debate policies and sketch out how the party can return to power.

On a fence-mending gesture, he said he will consider appointing Kono and Nishimura to important party posts.

“Although still young, they both ambitiously decided to run for party president. I think it’s only fair they be given a place in the party to display their abilities,” he said.

Commentators agree that it will be extremely difficult for the LDP to take the reins of power anytime soon.

Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University, is skeptical about Tanigaki’s prospects for reviving the party.

“I don’t think the LDP will be able to regenerate for a while, no matter which person it chooses as the leader,” Nakano said. “The LDP has received favors as the ruling party for so long that . . . I have a feeling it will be a long time before the LDP can reform as the opposition party, come up with new ideas, and be reborn as a political party that can take control of the government under its new leader.”

Nakano pointed out that the party members who survived the harsh political battle in August and managed to hang on to their Diet seats were mainly old-timers, like former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and former LDP Secretary General Makoto Koga.

“At this rate, the LDP will be too top-heavy, with many politicians who have passed their prime as lawmakers and I don’t think the LDP will be able to be reborn as a new political party,” Nakano pointed out.

Kono, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the party, continued to make contentious statements against the old guard, going so far as to suggest that Mori should retire.

Meiji Gakuin’s Kawakami criticized Kono, who also hinted during his campaign for the party leadership that he might leave the LDP if he didn’t win.

“An eccentric way with words is good, but what kind of person who is aiming to become the president of a company would come out and say he would leave for a venture company if he loses?” Kawakami said. “He has no right to become a leader.”