Friday, January 04, 2008

Mr. Ozawa’s New Year’s Day Party Shows a House Divided

Mr. Ozawa’s New Year’s Day Party Shows a House Divided
LDP faction leaders and other party worthies would routinely hold court during the new year’s holidays, while faction members and other Diet members, top bureaucrats, and other supplicants came to pay their respects. Ichirō Ozawa hews to that tradition, and all the dailies dutifully reported (the longest online article can be found here) his statements at his New Year’s Day party that “there will be [a Lower House] election this year, make no mistake about it. Unless we change the political trends, change regimes, the future of Japan is gloomy indeed. This is also the opportunity for the people to make the ultimate choice. We will win with all our might. We will achieve a majority in the Lower House.”

Brave words indeed, since even the somewhat less ambitious goal of denying a comfortable Lower House majority* to the ruling coalition will require at least a couple of more crises that are mishandled or are of such immense proportions that no amount of damage control will suffice. Perhaps he hopes that he can draw the reluctant DPJ into a Grand Coalition if he can deny the ruling coalition An L.H. supermajority. But that is not the point I want to make here.

According to the Asahi article, 50 Diet members, including Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka, attended the party. Today’s (4 January) hardcopy Yomiuri says “over 50 Diet members belonging to the [DPJ] attended”, so let’s say that a little over fifty out of 211 Diet members, or roughly one-fourth of the total came. According to the Yomiuri, the people around Mr. Ozawa were proud of this display of power, claiming that “it was show of the depth of support for Mr. Ozawa”.

Now getting 50 Diet members to show up at your private residence on a day when you might prefer to make the rounds of your constituency or just for once sit around the TV and get gloriously drunk may be an impressive feat. However, you can be sure that if the two Co-Deputy Presidents Naoto Kan and Seiji Maehara, who outrank Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Yamaoka, were there, the media would have taken notice. As if to illustrate the point, the Yomiuri article has a chart of the seven major DPJ groups in order of size**, the Ozawa group (approximately 50), the Kan Group (a. 30), former Socialist Party (a. 30), Hatoyama Group (a. 30), Maehara Group (a. 30), (Yoshihiko) Noda (a. 25), and former Democratic Socialist Party*** members (a. 25). In other words, it is highly likely that almost all of the people who were there were members of Mr. Ozawa’s group and that others, including non-Ozawa-Group DPJ leaders, stayed away.

That is not all. The origins of the seven groups can each be traced back to the times before they came together over the years, ultimately ending up in the current version of the DPJ. The house, it seems, can still be divided, and Mr. Ozawa’s personality and old-school ways have little other to offer to party unity besides elective success.

What does this mean? If, as I have been saying time**** and time again, the Lower House election comes in late summer or beyond but, as Mr. Ozawa claims, within the year, it is more than likely that the snap election will have been called at Mr. Fukuda’s pleasure, diminishing even more the likelihood that the DPJ will be able to deny the ruling coalition at least a comfortable majority*****. In either case, Mr. Ozawa will hand in his pro forma resignation as party leader. But this time, his act worn thin, it is likely that the party faithful will let him ride off into the sunset. As the attendance at his New Year’s Day party shows, the love for Mr. Ozawa extends beyond the ballot box 50-deep, no more.

* I define a comfortable majority as one that will not be threatened by the loss of a few seats in by-elections due to disqualification (e.g. as the result of election law violations), resignation (e.g. to run for governor), and death.

** The rough total comes to 230, substantially more than the 211 DPJ Diet members. That is because there is some overlap, unlike the LDP factions.

*** Not to be confused with the Social Democrats, which is the current English name for the Socialist Party.

**** Note that I did get it spectacularly wrong on Tarō Asō’s prospects. But that was before Mr. Fukuda entered the picture.

***** The supermajority is another animal, and I don’t see a good reason for Mr. Fukuda wanting to call a snap election unless he believes that the ruling coalition has a better than even chance of retaining joint custody. But he must balance that against the possibility of prospects declining as the 2009 expiration date for the current crop of Upper House members approaches, narrowing his options. Thus, the timing is subject to circumstances that become murkier as we look deeper into the future.

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