Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two Events to Watch Out for: Highway Toll Diet SmackDown and Strike Two for Ozawa

Really no time to elaborate, so let me put down a couple of markers on the DPJ. First, it’s become a matter of course that someone puts his foot down and the prime minister will appear to yield, only to appear to pull back again when someone else complains. This makes the first person unhappy, and the two sides (or more on occasion) goes back and forth with the befuddled prime minister in between until whoever has the greater leverage on the prime minister or can get Ozawa behind himself gets his way. But Hatoyama sent the highway toll rumble between Ozawa and Maehara to a higher dimension when he deferred the resolution of the issue to deliberations in the Diet. He bought a few weeks of relative quiet for himself on the matter, but he’s formally taking the quarrel public. I think that this raises the stakes substantially. Hatoyama’s procedural move has the potential to split the DPJ down the line; as such, it’s the first of its kind.

The second is the decision by the Committee for Inquest of Prosecution—a name right out of a Kafka nightmare if you ask me—to recommend that Ozawa be prosecuted for the political financing irregularities after all. He had it coming, since the Public Prosecutors Office’s announcement that it would not move forward with criminal proceedings against Ozawa had all but begged for political cover in the event it failed in securing a guilty verdict against him. The PPO will reopen the investigation, then prosecute, or telegraph again its desires upon which the CIP will repeat its recommendation, with which the PPO will be “compelled” to prosecute. Note that it’s in the interests of the DPJ that Ozawa—and Ozawa alone—leaves the scene; the problem is, he’s likely to try to take his troops—up to 40-50 Diet members; talk of a third of the DPJ contingency vastly overestimates Ozawa’s sway over the 2007 (Upper House) and 2009 (Lower House) rookies—and leave the camp. Strike two will force his hand. Will he go quietly into the night? Or will he trash the place before his leaves?

The CIP worked far more quickly than I’d imagined, since I’d based my timeline assumptions on on the one two-strike precedent, the Fukuchiyama Line accident, where the CIP and PPO took years to finally bring the case against railway executives. In hindsight, it makes sense; Fukuchiyama involved reams of technical details of ther kind that Ozawa’s case does not have.


PaxAmericana said...

Can the prosecutors agree to not prosecute if he takes his troops and leaves the DPJ?

This reminds me of the war against Thaksin in Thailand. The old guard has an immune system, to use van Wolferen's phrase, that kicks in whenever anyone threatens the control system. At least to my eyes, most of the attacks on the DPJ, Ozawa, and Hatoyama seem pretty ridiculous in the context of what the LDP did for decades. 50 years of baramaki, and now it's a problem?

Some wags used to debate whether the PRI in Mexico or the LDP had the "perfect dictatorship". If a new version of the old LDP crowd can regain power, it would be an amazing accomplishment.

Jun Okumura said...


The public prosecutors have total discretion not to prosecute—or did, until the two-strikes rule came into effect.

Your take on the DPJ, Ozawa, and Hatoyama explains the reason for the media-led attacks against them: The media did attack the LDP for baramaki—for instance, the nationalist Sankei also happened to be one of its stronger critics—but there never was a single viable alternative for the voters to turn to. We voted for change; now, Ozawa’s perceived electioneering needs are overshadowing the Hatoyama cabinet, and the consequences fall on the Ozayama regime. The current version of the LDP doesn’t look too appetizing either, which is why the media and many voters are playing the field. SO I’m not saying that the LDP can regain its place in Japanese politics—I’m not a prophet—but I’m also not writing off a party that will have by far the largest representation after the DPJ in both Houses after the July election.