Saturday, September 04, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: The Ozawa Referendum

The first of what I hope will be several observations about the upcoming DPJ leadership election, where Ichiro Ozawa is making what is surely his last (and first, when you come to think about it) bid for the prime minister’s office, against incumbent Naoto Kan:

The Kan administration has looked good in the public’s eye recently, bouncing back in the media polls from the mediocre (but not disastrous) 40%-plus counts around the upper house election to make it over the 50% threshold. DPJ local assemblymen* and party members and official supporters* obviously have their ears to the ground, and are leaning heavily toward incumbent, according to this Yomiuri report. Then why is someone who, just three months ago, resigned from his secretary-general post, giving up control over party coffers and appointments, and whose main support comes from Yukio Hatoyama, who took him down with him when he resigned as prime minister, running neck and neck with Kan for support among the 412 DPJ Diet members*?

Kan has proven to be singularly uninspiring. His pre-upper house election message on an eventual consumption tax hike not only proved to be politically ill-advised, but came across as muddled and equivocating, the very qualities that had proved disastrous to his predecessor Hatoyama. This almost all by itself precipitated the political equivalent of the Narita divorce, or at least chased enough votes away from the DPJ in the July upper house election to prevent it from capitalizing on the still-considerable lead that it held over the LDP and the rest of the field. The public’s recovering support, such as it is, remains at best lukewarm. Only a small fraction of the positive respondents in the polls give his policies or his leadership qualities as the reason for their support. Instead, the majority think that it’s too soon to ditch a second DPJ prime minister in just one year, after going through three new LDP prime ministers in just so many years. The voices of his Diet member colleagues reflect this; METI Minister Naoshima, for instance, says, “I have been thinking about this for some time, and I intend to support Mr. Kan, since it is my role to execute the policies that I have developed as a member of the cabinet,” not exactly a ringing endorsement of the prime minister’s leadership or his program, such as there is.

However, these supportive colleagues of his have been more forthcoming about Ozawa’s failings—his political financing issues and holes in his broad-stroke and sometimes alarmingly off-the-cuff policy pronouncements—if the media reports are to be believed. And that is as good an indication of what this leadership election is all about. It’s really a referendum on Ozawa, and what he stands for. And the DPJ Diet members are being forced to take a stand.

I still believe that Kan will win, and that the DPJ will not fall apart as a result. However, Kan does not seem to be the poster child for the new DPJ, if that is what it is going to be. It seems more and more likely that the current configuration of the DPJ will last at most until the dust settles on the next lower house election and that Kan will not be the last man standing then.
* The assemblymen, the official party members and supporters, and the Diet members account for 100, 300, and 824 votes respectively. That’s a total of 1224 votes. The assemblymen votes are allocated among the candidates according to the proportional D’Hondt method, while the official party members and supporters cast their ballots in their respective lower house single-seat districts, with the vote for each going to the top vote-getter first-past-the-post style. Each of the 412 Diet members receives two votes.

Janne: I think that we’ve come closer to a meeting of minds on Apple with your latest comment on my previous post. I intend to get back to that next week. But for now, it’s a subject that is well beyond my area of expertise, such as there is, so I need a little time to put my thoughts together as tightly as your comments typical demand, okay?


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.