Monday, May 11, 2009

Ozawa is a Goner

Ozawa, leader of opposition party DPJ has resigned, quit, abdicated, taken his leave, thrown in the towel, hung up his gloves, punched out and left the stage. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the fat lady has well and truly sung.

His office was under investigation for taking illegal campaign contributions from a construction company. This is a bit of a liability when your party's election strategy and its whole reason to exist is based on opposing the ruling party LDP for being the kind of corrupt party that accepts illegal contributions from the construction industry.

This is putting a bit of a crimp in the LDP plans to use Ozawa's personal impopularity (the guy can apparently antagonize people by simply being in the same building) and the cloud of the bribery investigation as issues in the coming election. Tobias Harris of Observing Japan has fingered Katsuya Okada as a possible successor. Like prime minister Aso he comes from a very rich family (owners of the Aeon supermarket chain) so he's had no need to dabble in the murky waters of campaign contributions. And unlike Aso (and more than half the LDP government) he has not inherited his seat from a relative, the frequency of which is a peculiarly Japanese state of affairs that has been gaining unfavorable attention lately (in no small part due to Okada himself bringing it up).

News in general and political reporting in particular really is a story, in the classical sense. You build rapport with the characters, where some are cast as heroes and others as villains. You see the underdog prevail and triumph, then be brought back to earth by hubris. There is a flow to the reporting that enhances the dramatic tension and maximizes interest in the story.

Nobody consciously does this. No reporter or editor decides that it's time to stop writing nice things about politician A and bring him down (it's unlikely to work if they did), or decide that a browbeaten party has suffered enough and is let back in the press' good graces. This ebb and flow is decided collectively, by reporters, by the readers and by the political actors themselves. There is a rhythm that resonates with the readers; the articles that follow that flow get the readers and web hits, while those that don't are ignored.

The press have spent a lot of time now beating down on Ozawa (and the DPJ) for the construction company money while they've been giving the LDP a bit of a free pass in its current role of recession fighter ("brave Aso battling Impossible Odds"). But the press is now free to shift their focus to speculation on the new DPJ leader ("who will be the Anointed One?") and possibly shift the LDP storyline onto the (not so positive) performance of the coalition during the recent economic disaster. Ozawa has loomed large on the political scene here for many years but has always been a bit of a drag on the DPJ platform; without him the dynamic changes substantially. It looks like the election may become even more interesting than thought.

You may call Japanese politics many things, but "boring" is not one of them.


  1. I thorougly enjoyed your ebb/flow-metaphor of storytelling in journalism. Is there another origin to it that you are aware of or was it your own reflections?

  2. Of all the Ozawa posts floating about, this was my favourite for that very perceptive metaphor. If you didn't think of it yourself, you should claim it as your own, methinks.

  3. As far as I am aware it's my own; it occurred to me as I was writing this post. With that said, it's a fairly obvious metaphor and I'm sure other people must have thought of it too.


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