Saturday, April 25, 2009

It Looks Like the DPJ Is Setting the Stage for an Ozawa Step-Down

The four-member commission that the DPJ set up to look into the accountability of politicians, public prosecutors, and the media, as expected, is definitely not doing a whitewash job. Yesterday (April 24), Gerald Curtis reportedly gave the commission a grim assessment of the DPJ’s chances of winning with Ichiro Ozawa at the helm. This follows on the Greek chorus of the likes of Seiji Maekawa, Katsuya Okada and even the faithful deputy leader Yukio Hatayama, not to mention the lesser lights like Yoshihiko Noda and the numerous anonymous voices in the DPJ, ranging from assertions that Ozawa would do the right thing if the opinion polls told him that he would not be able to lead the DPJ to victory to outright claims that the DPJ was already in that spot.

But the real clincher for me is the latest gambit from the DPJ—more accurately the reform committee that Katsuya Okada is heading—prohibiting relatives within three degrees of a retiring DPJ Diet member from standing for election in the same electoral district as the incumbent, with the quite reasonable condition that the ban will only apply after the upcoming Lower House election. Now Ozawa has not yet determined which district he will seek election from, but as the September deadline for the election (which may be as early as sometime in June) approaches, given his Nishimatsu difficulties, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that he will be able to stand for election anywhere other than his home Iwate district that he has held in various forms for almost 40 years. The catch here is that if he does so, he will be unable to bequeath that seat to one of his sons. Perhaps more significant, the formidable political assets—both social and economic—that he has amassed over the years will leave the family. Ozawa’s son might skirt the ban by standing for election in the next year’s Upper House election, but that would require the DPJ incumbent to step down in his favor. In other words, the DPJ ban has all but set a deadline for Ozawa to pass on the family jewels.

Add to all this Ozawa’s well-documented aversion to the political limelight—none of the admittedly small group of journalists that I spoke yesterday believed that Ozawa would actually serve as Prime Minister—and I think we are witnessing the Ozawa endgame. If so, Ozawa’s loss will be the DPJ’s victory. At least that’s what the opinion polls tracked here are telling us.

Sorry for not responding to earlier comments, but I needed to get this off my chest.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, this annoys me. I have it on reasonably good authority that Professor Curtis has never been a big fan of Ozawa going back years. Given this, he's not really an independent voice on these matter.

Jun Okumura said...

Anonymous: “Independent” doesn’t mean that you can’t have opinions and voice them. In fact, it’s probably hard to find an “independent” public figure that doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about Ozawa; he’s that compelling a figure. He’s the Ty Cobb of Japanese politics. Moreover, Curtis’ testimony as reported in the article is more to the point and objective than the headline suggests. But ain’t it always?

In any case, if this was a setup of some kind, then that would reinforce my point.