Friday, May 22, 2009

Now It’s the Ozawas’ Turn with the Family Jewels

Yesterday, I considered the implications on Junichiro Koizumi’s son of a idea brewing in the LDP to deny official candidate status to heirloom politicians beginning with the upcoming Lower House general election—the idea clearly being to upstage the DPJ, which won’t implement a ban on heirloom candidates during this election, claiming that it’s too late to find replacements. My take was that such a turn of events would actually benefit Mini-K. There is a very good chance that the Ozawa family will face a similar situation in the general election after that. Ozawa is 66, and has health problems and three sons (to Koizumi’s two). What is he supposed to do?

It is important to remember that there are a number of single-seat districts where the DPJ has yet to put up candidates. It is supporting candidates from the New People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party in some of them, while it has not found viable candidates in others. The exceptions to these are Ozawa’s own Iwate 4th District and a few other districts that have been purposely left open to Ozawa’s choice as part of campaign tactics. Most notably, stage whispers let on that he might challenge Akira Ota, the New Komeito leader, in the latter’s Tokyo 11th District. The New Komeito would likely have to divert campaign resources that could have been expended more usefully elsewhere, just so its leader can avoid the embarrassment of its leader losing and having to slip in through the regional proportionate district backdoor.

Of course such a turn of events would leave the Iwate 4th District without an official DPJ candidate and with little time left for a novice to step in, declare him/herself, go through the vetting process and campaign successfully…unless, of course, one of Ozawa’s three sons steps in with the Ozawa kaban (money), kanban (name recognition), and jiban (readymade constituency and political machine) . There’s the heirloom stigma, but the favorite, favored son could make a big show of foregoing official DPJ support. It won’t fool anybody, but it can serve as a fig leaf. Ozawa himself will run the risk of losing to Ota and not winning enough votes relative to Ota to return to the Lower House as a proportional-district Representative, but that danger should be small if not insignificant.

All this sounds fine and dandy, but there’s a catch. As I said, this won’t fool anybody even if Mini-Ozawa runs as an “independent” and the media will feast on the double rake-off. I’m not sure that it will be a significant story throughout the campaign, but it is sure to harm the DPJ more than the LDP. Koizumi is a spent force, whereas Ozawa is the mind, if not the face, of the DPJ. Just as significantly, the DPJ can’t win by being “no worse than the LDP”.

There’s really no way of knowing what Ozawa will do or, if he decides to take to, how Yukio Hatoyama, the new party leader will respond. Thus, the uneasy slumber of the catfish under the Diet Building has yet to reach its conclusion.

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