Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Rapid Reaction: The Ozawa Defection

Ozawa is a spent force, although he can still play a spoiler role in the Diet, complicating legislative affairs until at least the 2013 upper house (HOC) election. Look at how his lower house (HOR) support slipped as the going got tougher over the past week. On June 21, 49 HOR members of the Ozawa Group showed up at his soiree for hardcore opponents of the consumption tax hike. The same day, 45 HOR members, almost surely consisting of the soiree attendants, entrusted their party secession papers to Ozawa. On June 26, 57 HOR members from the DPJ voted against the tax-and-social security reform bill that includes provisions for the consumption tax hike. 46 of them had attended the June 21 soiree. On July 2, Kenji Yamaoka, Ozawa’s majordomo submitted to the DPJ the secession papers of 40 HOR and 12 HOC members. Two of the 40 HOR members denied that they had intended to secede, claiming that they had not been consulted before the submission. One other HOR member reportedly complained as well but was persuaded by Ozawa to stay the course on defection. There are some rumors that Ozawa sympathizers lie in waiting in the DPJ for just the right moment to defect and destabilize the Noda administration. But it is doubtful that such a clandestine undertaking can be conducted in absolute secrecy. Besides, these things are now or never; if you lose your nerve the first time around, it’ll be difficult to get yourself up for another try. It look like Ozawa’s allies backed bit by bit as the going got harder. Ozawa is surely stuck, give or take less than a handful, with what he has now*. In short, Ozawa underwhelmed; that’s bad optics. There will be a significant anti-consumption tax backlash at the polls come the snap election. But Ozawa’s candidates will have to share it with the policy-minded Your Party, whatever Hashimoto cooks up under the Ishin banner, and the relics of the Japanese left-wing. In fact, if I were a first-term HOR member who opposed the consumption tax hike bill, I’d try to run under the aegis of Your Party, or something that Toru Hashimoto, the charismatic Osaka mayor, cooks up under the Ishin banner. Seriously, I Can’t figure out a way for Ozawa to do anything more than to hang on to the troops that he still has until election day, when his party winds up lumped together with all the other small parties with just enough political capital to survive but not nearly enough to grow, It’s difficult to foresee the political HOR configuration of the post-eleciton regime. But the HOC picture is much clearer. Given the 12 defections, the legislative process will become much less flexible, making it much more difficult to do anything there without an agreement between the DPJ and LDP.


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