Thursday, February 17, 2011


The man who just keeps bouncing back over and over again after everybody thinks he's gone - no, not Jason, Ozawa - may really be gone this time. Unfortunately, he may decide to bring the DPJ and the Japanese government down with him.

Ozawa was recently formally indicted for his role (if any) in a campaign finance case. DPJ party leader Kan has tried to persuade him to step down ever since, and after he refused, the party governing board decided to suspend him for the duration of the court case. A suspension is apparently according to the internal party rules in such cases.

Now, here is where it gets complicated (it always seems to get complicated whenever Ozawa is involved). He is a strong campaigner and a talented vote-getter. A large group of new DPJ lower house members owe their seats - and their future careers - to Ozawa more than to the party. Ozawa is also very hungry for the prime minister post; that's the one position he has been aiming for for most of his career. In the DPJ leader election last year, Ozawa lost against Kan, but only by a small margin, and he's been looking for another chance ever since.

And it looked like the chance might come soon. The Kan administrations ratings with the public are lousy. The houses are divided, so they need support from at least a couple of small parties to pass any significant legislation - support that the DPJ if finding desperately difficult to drum up. It now looks likely that they will not be able to pass the spring budget. The LDP say they won't vote for any DPJ budget no matter what it contains unless Kan first agrees to call a reelection (and let's generously ignore that the budget bills would be pointless if an election is called), and the smaller parties don't want to attach themselves to a sinking ship. It is only a matter of time until Kan throws in the towel. Enter Ozawa to pick up the fallen mantle, restore the DPJ To Its Full Glory and lead His Glorious Party Into the Glorious Future Under His Glorious Leadership!

Except... He is under suspension, and will be for the duration of the court case. Which might go on for months and months. And under party rules he can't hold any position or stand for election. So if, as seems likely, Kan steps down this spring then Ozawa will be sitting on the sidelines and watch someone else grab the position he so very, very much wants for himself. It'd mean another year or more before another opportunity presents itself, and with his age and health he may not have another couple of years.

So now he is considering leaving the DPJ, taking his supporters along and bringing the governing party down around him. He's done it before - he's called "Ozawa the Destroyer" for a reason - and there's no reason to think he won't do it again. He may well reason that with his chances for premiership gone within the DPJ, he is better off in a new party (with one of the increasingly popular prefectural governors perhaps), and the more damage he can cause to the DPJ on his way out the better.

Sixteen of his lower house members have somewhat incongruously stated that they are no longer part of the governing coalition - although they apparently want to remain in the party. They are threatening to vote against the coming budget bills in revenge of Ozawas suspension; the budget bills presented by their own party, that they seem to think they still belong to. They are effectively saying that unless Ozawa is reinstated and Kan gets the boot, they will leave the party. There's more than a whiff of 3rd-grade "I'll kick and scream until I get my way" playground mentality there.

Now, if Kan actually listens to Ozawa and to whatshisname of the opposition LDP and calls a new election then things could get really interesting. Kan and the DPJ are in dire straits, support-wise, true, but they're not the only ones. For all their bluster about demanding elections, the LDP is completely unprepared for a general election. Newspaper reports say they don't even have viable candidates for many seats around the country, and they're still in the process of downscaling the organization to fit their slimmer economy. Ozawa would not be in a position to contest a general election from the outside at this point either, and he risks having many election-weary voters blame him in part for the whole thing.

So who would win? Seriously, who cares any more? Nobody in this soap opera seems to consider the effect on Japan at large. They're all playing internal politics, manoeuvring for power, while ignoring the corrosive effect this has on Japanese politics. Necessary bills and broadly accepted reforms get lost because somebody can earn a few points by killing them, or they just don't want to give an opponent the satisfaction of achieving something. I'd call these people childish but that'd be doing children an injustice - children grow up, while these sad people never will.


This is not a Diet member. They don't exhibit this sense of responsibility and gravitas.


  1. Thanks for articulating a lot of sensible opinions. I've been waiting for Ozawa to make a move toward splitting the DJP ever since he lost the leadership election to Kan, and am only surprised it's taken so long. As you say, he didn't acquire his nickname for nothing. I can't imagine, though, that any of the smaller parties would be willing to go anywhere near him, given his personal political toxicity with the electorate, so if he does bolt with his followers he may well be heading for a long-drawn-out decline in the political wilderness, made more palatable by the knowledge he's taken the Kan administration down with him. Unless he takes his followers and tries to form a coalition with the LDP - but that possibility is so dreadful I don't even want to think about it.

  2. Actually, according to this Asahi Shinbun (English) piece, he may be looking to cooperate with Nagoyas mayor and his party.

    It'd make some kind of sense; These local new parties (our governor Hashimoto has one too) need national brand recognition, which Ozawa can provide, and they can give Ozawa a fresh, popular face to front his next effort at power.

  3. I see what both parties think they could get out of such a tie-up, but it seems like joining up with Ozawa would actually be the kiss of death for someone who's seeking to brand himself as a fresh face. I can't imagine Hashimoto doing that. But then again, never underestimate the idiocy of Japanese politicians when huge fundraising ability is involved...


Comment away. Be nice. I no longer allow anonymous posts to reduce the spam.