Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ozawa Drops a Political Financing Bomb on the LDP

I didn’t think that there would be anything noteworthy to write about on the Nishimatsu scandal till the 24th, now that the DPJ and LDP were warily circling each other because the blowback could be as damaging as any attack either one could inflict on the other. There were two things that the DPJ could do that would turn the issue into its favor; Ichiro Ozawa has come out with one of them.

In 2003, the DPJ’s leadership council issued a decision in the name of Katsuya Okada, then Director-General, on political finance reform that included a self-imposed ban on accepting money from the 63 members of the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors (including Nishimatsu Corporation). In 2005, the DPJ, now under Okada’s leadership, fought a Lower House election under a policy manifesto that carried the following promise:
We will impose a total ban on political financial contributions from businesses that receive contracts for public works (公共事業受注企業からの政治献金を全面禁止します)*.
But Prime Minister Koizumi’s bet on Post Office privatization paid off and the LDP won a landslide victory. Katsuya Okada resigned as DPJ head, and when Gen-X conservative Seiji Maehara stumbled badly over a minor political scandal, the DPJ turned to Ichiro Ozawa, who led the DPJ to victory in 2007 under a new policy manifesto that merely stated, “The DPJ has introduced a legislative bill to eliminate in one fell swoop political corruption through such measures as a ban on rerouted contributions, elimination of improprieties such as intercession and mediation by politicians (the original is poorly drafted: 民主党は、迂回献金の禁止、政治家によるあっせん・口利きといった不正の根絶など政治腐敗を一掃するための法案も提出しています). According to a Sankei report, the proposal had been dropped on Ozawa’s insistence. Now, Ozawa has gone on the counterattack and is moving not only to revive it but to raise the stakes by calling for a ban on all corporate and organizational contributions.

Ozawa first floated the idea in his regular Tuesday press briefing, surprising even his fellow party members. Wednesday, he asked Yukio Hatoyama, DPJ Secretary-General and now-faithful Ozawa spokesman, to have Katsuya Okada, the head of DPJ Political Reform Headquarters come up with a credible scheme. In a subsequent press conference, he left it up to the party to decide if it would be put into the party platform for the Lower House election.

A ban will affect individual politicians differently—that is why the DPJ itself has been divided on this issue—but as a whole, the LDP has far more to lose than the DPJ. (Read this earlier post for some background.) The Japan Communist Party and New Komeito, each with its own hardcore constituency, will be not be affected, but they do not stand to gain much either due to their inherently limited electoral appeal.

Thus, the proposal will be an excellent tactical move for the DPJ going into the Lower House election. However, there is an uneasy air of political convenience to this last-minute conversion. Predictably, LDP members are calling it a little rich for Ozawa of all people to be pushing the idea. Of course Ozawa could cut down skeptics with one stroke by resigning as DPJ President, and he hasn’t closed the door to that.

* A DPJ legislative bill introduced in 2002 before the 2003 merger that created the DPJ in its current form and resubmitted in 2003 and 2004 had not contained a ban on political financial contributions from businesses that receive contracts for public works.


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to ask your expert opinion on this, if you have the time, interest, and patience to respond.

It appears, to me at least, that Ozawa genuinely believes: 1) he is innocent; 2) the prosecutors have a political mission that goes beyond 'getting a badge' as I think he put it some weeks ago. The first we obviously cannot make a judgment on. (Although Ozawa was never good at pretending about anything, so I tend to believe him.)

But, if the latter is indeed his belief - indeed even if it is not - how significant is the fact that he is willing to even make the argument that the political manipulation of the police authorities is plausible in Japan? It strikes me as an outlandish claim, but then stranger things have occurred in Japanese politics and probably will do so again. Do you have any read, or have you read anything that has a read, on whether there has been any evidence of this kind of thing occurring in the post-Occupation period? Nothing comes to mind, but then, I don't know as much as I should.


- someone who doesn't want to be anonymous but probably should

Jun Okumura said...

Anonymous: You flatter me, but I’m not an expert. Expert bloggers are people like the proprietors of Arms Control Wonk, who are willing to share their professional expertise with the general public for free. I mostly use publicly available information and mix it with an outlook developed through my life in the bureaucracy and its environs. With that caveat of sorts, I wrote this post as a response.