Ichiro Ozawa held a press conference at 5:00PM today to announce that he would be resigning as DPJ President, opening the way for a scandal-free successor to lead his party in the next Lower House election. He gave no indication as to whom he would favor as his successor, but made it clear that he was not leaving politics and would be seeing to it that the DPJ would be running the election his way. He did not say if he would be contesting his Iwate seat, or any other (say, as rumored, New Komeito leader Hiroaki Ota’s Tokyo 12th District) for that matter, but that is trivial.
Two names, Katsuya Okada and Yukio Hatoyama, both former DPJ leaders, have been put forth as favorites to succeed Ozawa. Right now, my money is on Okada, and not just because he’s class of ’76 METI. He’s seen as a clean—if boring policy-wonk—presence, a welcome change from Ozawa. And as I have mentioned before, he has spent the two years crisscrossing the nation earning street cred with the local-rank-and-file, a very important thing for the long-term health of the DPJ, currently over-reliant on labor union muscle. I’m sure Ozawa prefers Hatoyama, another scandal-free figure who has until fairly late in the game served him as attack dog non pariel. Moreover, Hatoyama basically bankrolled the pre-merger DPJ and is on good terms with every group in the current DPJ. However, he has repeatedly averred that he would be going down with the captain if that turns out to be the case, and it’s difficult right now to see the overly serious Hatoyama going back on his words. Of course all this could change if the DPJ decides on an election, rather than a white-smoke-from-the-chimney consensus process. But that’s trivial. The important thing is that this removes the greatest obstacle for independents/floaters to voting for the DPJ.
One other important political implication is that this makes it easier for a post-electoral LDP breakaway group to join a DPJ-led coalition. This has policy implications as well, since it means that the DPJ may not need the Social Democrats (old-school socialists) or the People’s New Party (who want to turn the clock back on Post Office reform as well as public works expenditures) to hold a stable majority in the Upper House. I’ll see if I have more to say on this point, as well as the time to do so. In the meantime, for those of you who can read Japanese, this is the text of Ozawa’s Sherman speech, and this is the press Q&A.
Sorry, folks. I don’t think I’ll have the time today to respond to the comments on earlier posts. (Gotta take care of dinner.) I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, okay?