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Cablegate: Ldp Membership Declines As Voting Patterns Change

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TOKYO 005161

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV JA
SUBJECT: LDP MEMBERSHIP DECLINES AS VOTING PATTERNS CHANGE
UNDER KOIZUMI


1. (SBU) Summary. Membership numbers for the ruling Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP) have fallen sharply on the mass
defections of postal workers since the passage of Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization package in
2005, according to recently released party statistics.
Peaking at almost 5.5 million party members in 1991, the
LDP's formidable political machine that reached every corner
of Japan is now down to one million members. To prevail in
the upcoming elections and maintain their hold on power, the
LDP is working to recruit unaffiliated individual voters and,
more recently, to win back the disaffected postal workers.
Election campaigning Japanese style has changed fundamentally
under Koizumi, who has presided over the wind-up of the
conservative party's national and local chapters and members.
End summary.

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2. (SBU) Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's skillfully
orchestrated passage of a postal privatization package in
2005 has had a dramatic impact on membership numbers for the
ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), according to figures
published on August 29. The most recent numbers, released by
the party in connection with the LDP's September 20
presidential election, show a decrease of 333,956 qualified
voting members since 2003, down from 1,402,621 to 1,068,665.
(Note: Qualified voting members are those who have paid the
membership fees for two consecutive years and are
consequently entitled to vote in party elections. End note.)


3. (SBU) The nearly 25 percent decline in membership since
2003 is due almost entirely to the mass exodus of the
Association of Special Postmasters (ASP) and an organization
composed of postal system retirees, called "Taiju," according
to Embassy contacts in the LDP's national headquarters
office. The two organizations were among the largest of the
LDP's support groups, prior to cutting their ties with the
party over Koizumi's postal privatization measures. Over 95
percent of Taiju members, nearly 110,000 qualified voting
members of the LDP, turned in their memberships at nearly the
same time, the press reported. As an example of the
tremendous clout these organizations enjoyed in the past, an
LDP candidate with career connections to the postal system
received over one million votes from organized postal workers
in the 1980 Upper House Diet election, according to a recent
press report.

4. (SBU) Declining LDP membership rolls predate Koizumi and
postal reform. Party membership reached a high of 5.46
million in 1991, but has steadily declined ever since. While
Japan's economic doldrums played a role, Embassy Tokyo's LDP
contacts attribute the bulk of the nearly 75 percent decrease
since 1991 to reforms that radically reduced incentives for
recruiting new members (e.g., abolition of recruitment quotas
for Diet members in 2000, elimination of "rewards" for
recruitment to Upper House proportional candidates in 1998
and purging of "phantom members" from the roles that same
year).

5. (SBU) Prior to the 2004 Upper House and 2005 Lower House
Diet elections, much media and scholarly attention was
focused on the fact that the LDP could no longer rely on
organized voting of the sort made possible by groups like the
postal workers and postal retirees, but would instead need to
win over the roughly 50 percent of the electorate that was
classified as unaffiliated. Total membership hovered just
above 1.67 million in 2001 and 2002, then held at
approximately 1.4 million for the next two years, before
falling to 1.22 million in 2005. With support for Koizumi at
50 percent and support for the LDP itself at only 35 percent
just prior to the LDP's landslide victory in the 2005 general
election, Koizumi was clearly successful at pulling in these
"floating" votes. The postal workers fought hard to reelect
Lower House candidates who had resigned from the LDP over
postal reform, but Koizumi fielded his own candidates against

TOKYO 00005161 002 OF 002


the "postal rebels" and led the LDP to a landslide victory on
the strength of his reform message. Embassy contacts confirm
that party efforts have succeeded in enrolling more of these
"floaters," with individual memberships having risen
slightly, even as organized memberships are dropping.

6. (SBU) According to LDP officials, Party Organization
Headquarters Chairman Yoshio Yatsu initiated efforts back in
February 2006 to reconcile with the postal workers in hopes
of regaining their support in time for unified local and
Upper House Diet elections in April and July of 2007,
respectively. Prime Minister Koizumi supports these efforts
to repair the strained relationship, recognizing the
important role the two organizations will play in efforts to
implement the privatization process, slated to begin in
October 2007. This is a far cry from when the Prime Minister
referred publicly to the two organizations as "forces of
resistance" for their attempts to block his privatization
legislation. The postal workers, for their part, have an
interest in staking out a meaningful role for themselves in
the implementation process, although it is still unclear
whether they will rejoin the LDP fold.

7. (SBU) Comment. Prime Minister Koizumi stated at the
beginning of his term that he was out to either reform the
LDP or destroy it. His willingness to break the rules and
alienate two of the party's largest support groups just prior
to an election in pursuit of his legislative agenda is a
clear illustration of how unconventional a politician he has
been. Despite the steep decline in party membership during
his term, the LDP still maintains its lock on power. To
prevail in the coming elections and maintain that hold,
however, the LDP will need to maintain it's support levels
among fickle "floating voters." The well-oiled
organizational machine of their coalition partner, New
Komeito, will likely supply significant support.
SCHIEFFER

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