Ichiro Ozawa has finally consented to face off on May 13 against Prime Minister Aso in the Diet session party-leader debate—launched nine years ago as (it is widely believed) an Ozawa initiative—that he had done his utmost to avoid even before his most recent political troubles began.
Frankly, I’m surprised that it took Ozawa so long to come around. He may be no great debater, but Aso isn’t one either. Nor is Aso an effective attack dog; he’s more of a friendly-banter, small-talk guy, cast in the same mold as George W. Bush. More important, the debate is brief (45 minutes according to Wikipedia and should in principle be focused on policy issues, of which there are plenty. Thus, a concentrated personal attack on Ozawa can damage public perception of Aso’s leadership. More seriously, it will backfire on the LDP, whose own far more extensive reliance on corporate money provides plenty of material for a counterattack. If it comes to that Ozawa could even decide to play to the crowds by throwing in a DPJ proposal to ban all corporate funds, though he personally dislikes the idea. Although I do not believe that the principals will avoid discussing political financing altogether—that would be bad for Ozawa as well—it should be a relatively minor factor in the debate.
This will give Ozawa and his DPJ allies and associates some ammunition to claim that he is not hiding himself and moreover has yet again publicly addressed the issue. It obviously will not slake the media’s thirst for political blood, but it will go some ways in quieting—though certainly not silencing—less friendly elements in the DPJ. That in turn means less material for the media’s Ozawa deathwatch.