Veiled grumbling and anonymous comments in the DPJ trying to wish away Prime Minister Hatoyama are quickly shifting to open calls to do the right thing. Two things coming together over the weekend, 1) the DPJ’s Sunday withdrawal from the three-party coalition and 2) the Monday publication of the weekend media polls that put the LDP ahead of or neck-and-neck with the DPJ for voter intent in the July upper house election, have emboldened the DPJ’s upper house leaders and members up for reelection to speak up. Later on Monday, Hatoyama huddled with Ozawa and his upper house right-hand man Azuma Koshiishi but failed to secure their immediate endorsement. The media appear to be reading this as open season on Hatoyama in the DPJ. The three will meet again today at Hatoyama’s request. In the mean time, a gathering of the DPJ leadership (with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano sitting in on behalf of the prime minister) reportedly delegated the resolution of the matter to Ozawa and Koshiishi. All I can say to this sequence of events is that in the political game, the end comes swiftly once it becomes inevitable.
So it’s going to happen not after (as I had thought more likely) but before the July election. Ozawa’s immediate concerns should be the following:
1) Keep his DPJ secretary-general post. Ozawa is not one to inspire widespread loyalty. His powers of persuasion depend directly on his power to reward and punish. This means that he must force Hatoyama to resign “voluntarily” so that he can weather inevitable demands for his own resignation that will emanate from the media. Note also that an unwilling Hatoyama would try to take Ozawa with him, possibly by relieving him of his SG post (on which point the DPJ charter is vague).
2) Pass two legislative bills, one on the Japan Post reform process and another to tighten restrictions on the worker dispatching business. They’ve cleared the lower house and have been sent to the upper house. That will be the bottom line for the SDP when it decides how far to go in maintaining its collaboration with the DPJ in the July election. They are also necessary—the JP legislation in particular—to keep the PNP in the fold as its remaining coalition partner.
3) Keep the Diet session as short as possible. The current Diet session ends in a little over two weeks (on 16 June) and the selection of a new DPJ president and his election as the new prime minister is likely to take a week out of that. An extension looks inevitable but the DPJ wants to keep it to the absolute minimum necessary in order to avoid giving the opposition opportunities to draw media attention to DPJ shortcomings. From Ozawa’s viewpoint, renewed calls to investigate his political financing issues (if, as I expect, he retains his DPJ SG position) would be an obvious and highly undesirable ploy. This all means that many of the legislative bills submitted by the Hatoyama cabinet will be deferred to post-election sessions or allowed to expire.
Until I saw the latest media polls, I had been skeptical of past DPJ leaks about private polls—closely held to the vest by Ozawa—showing DPJ returns at 30-35, 35-40 seats. I thought at the time that they were an Ozawa gambit designed to force the DPJ candidates and rank-and-file to double down. My guesstimate at the time was 40-50 seats and, if pressed to narrow the range, 45-50. Not after the polls. But if Hatoyama’s successor is picked from among the likely prospects—Naoto Kan, Kan, Kan, and Kazuhiro Haraguchi—I’m reconfirming my guesstimate. And no, I don’t think Katsuya Okada makes the short list; he’s not Ozawa’s choice, and he’s also tainted by his role in the Futenma affair. Spending so much time and effort on the Japan-US secret agreements didn’t help him either. Seiji Maehara? I don’t see how Ozawa can ever swallow this one. Also, there’s an outside chance that JAL will blow up in his face as early as before the election.