Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ozawa and DPJ Tough It Out

Ichiro Ozawa and, for the most part, the DPJ are taking the conventional route and toughing it out. Ozawa is staying on as DPJ President, and he and his top deputies are claiming political foul play. (In fact, prosecutorial collusion is not completely unthinkable, but will be near impossible to prove even if it does exist.) I had seen an outside chance of Ozawa using this political setback as an excuse to recuse himself from the Prime Ministership and concentrate on his first love, the political game. Apparently, if Ozawa decides not to serve as Prime Minister, he will do that under his own terms and not those forced on him by adverse circumstances. Fair enough.

The good news for Ozawa is that it is highly unlikely that he will be charged personally. Shielding principals from the down-and-dirty facts is one of the political secretaries’ main functions. In Japan, political secretaries rarely if ever turn state’s witness; some even take the phrase “taking one’s secrets to the grave” all too literally and prematurely. Ozawa’s role, if any, in the deceit, again if any, is surely safe with his top political secretary. The bad news is that politicians are usually obliged to take responsibility, legally in the case of certain electoral infractions, for the transgressions of their agents. I suspect that there are multiple reasons for this, ranging from cultural collectivism to assumptions that non-provable complicity. In any case, his top secretary’s arrest, and likely indictment and conviction—if they happen—will successively ratchet up the pressure on Ozawa to step down himself.

In Ozawa’s favor is the fact that LDP politicians have also been on the take. My guess is that they have been raking in more money collectively from Nishimatsu Construction than Ozawa and any other DPJ politicians put together have done. Having said that, at the individual level, Ozawa appears to have lapped the field as far as such beneficence is concerned—an embarrassing reminder of his status as a political dinosaur, the foremost heir of the construction-money dominion that the Fuligin General, the Late Great Kakuei Tanaka of the LDP, built. Paradoxically, this softens the pain for the DPJ somewhat, since the public already sees Ozawa as the symbol of DPJ ties to conventional politics-as-usual. To the electorate, Ozawa was never more than the grey knight of Japanese politics. The shorter they come, the softer they fall.

All in all, I do not think that this will turn the political tides. The scandal diminishes the DPJ but if anything does something similar for the LDP albeit on a substantially lesser scale. If this is a case of Ozawa just being Ozawa, Prime Minister Aso has more than matched it with his own impressions of scrambling ineptitude.

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