As the Koizumi Kids phenomenon shows, rookie Diet members tend to gravitate toward the leadership under which they are elected. Similarly, Ozawa’s group swelled its ranks when the DPJ took 60 out of 121 seats up for grabs in the 2007 Upper House election. Although lingering resentment towards Katsuya Okada over his past expressions of desire for Upper House reform played a major role in delivering the bulk of the Upper House vote to Hatoyama, Ozawa’s influence over their ranks must also have figured substantially in the outcome. The upcoming Lower House election is likely to have an even more dramatic effect on Ozawa’s power, since all 480 seats will be up for election—unlike the Upper House, which turns over only half its members every three years. The 2007 election produced a net gain of 28 DPJ Diet members. But in the upcoming election, a simple majority—something well within the DPJ’s reach—will produce a net gain of 128 DPJ Diet members.
Significantly, Ozawa has exercised near-dictatorial powers in selecting, monitoring, and even coaching the candidates; in the process overshadowing the customary role of the Director-General—Hatoyama!—who is supposed to manage party operations on a day-to-day basis. If anything, his “demotion” to Senior Acting President will enhance his influence over the candidates, since he will not be distracted by anything as trivial as the need to show up for Diet sessions and respond to pesky reporters and instead will be able to devote his full attention to the electoral process—over which he explicitly retains full control*. Thus it is likely that Ozawa will emerge from the upcoming election with behind-the-scenes political might whose likes we have not seen since his mentor Kakuei Tanaka.
All this does not necessarily bode ill for a Hatoyama administration. Remember that Yasuhiro Nakasone, who led one of the most long-serving and effective post-WW II administrations, was also widely regarded as a Tanaka hand puppet when he became Prime Minister. And there is another eerie, if oddly hopeful, parallel in the relative disinterest in statecraft
* This begs the question: What is the new Director-General—Okada!—supposed to do?
As a final point, the shadow of the Overlord is obviously not helpful to the DPJ as far as the overall outcome of the election is concerned. I believe that this increases the likelihood of a need for a coalition partner beyond or in lieu of its more or less formal odd-bedfellows alliance with the People’s New Party (old-school-LDP) and the Social Democrats (old school Socialists), while simultaneously complicating any outreach to the LDP reformist wing—the source of the most likely candidates for a post-election breakaway. I’ll try to take this matter up in some detail in another post.