Monday, May 11, 2009

Ozawa Resigns, Clearing the Way for DPJ Victory

Ichiro Ozawa held a press conference at 5:00PM today to announce that he would be resigning as DPJ President, opening the way for a scandal-free successor to lead his party in the next Lower House election. He gave no indication as to whom he would favor as his successor, but made it clear that he was not leaving politics and would be seeing to it that the DPJ would be running the election his way. He did not say if he would be contesting his Iwate seat, or any other (say, as rumored, New Komeito leader Hiroaki Ota’s Tokyo 12th District) for that matter, but that is trivial.

Two names, Katsuya Okada and Yukio Hatoyama, both former DPJ leaders, have been put forth as favorites to succeed Ozawa. Right now, my money is on Okada, and not just because he’s class of ’76 METI. He’s seen as a clean—if boring policy-wonk—presence, a welcome change from Ozawa. And as I have mentioned before, he has spent the two years crisscrossing the nation earning street cred with the local-rank-and-file, a very important thing for the long-term health of the DPJ, currently over-reliant on labor union muscle. I’m sure Ozawa prefers Hatoyama, another scandal-free figure who has until fairly late in the game served him as attack dog non pariel. Moreover, Hatoyama basically bankrolled the pre-merger DPJ and is on good terms with every group in the current DPJ. However, he has repeatedly averred that he would be going down with the captain if that turns out to be the case, and it’s difficult right now to see the overly serious Hatoyama going back on his words. Of course all this could change if the DPJ decides on an election, rather than a white-smoke-from-the-chimney consensus process. But that’s trivial. The important thing is that this removes the greatest obstacle for independents/floaters to voting for the DPJ.

One other important political implication is that this makes it easier for a post-electoral LDP breakaway group to join a DPJ-led coalition. This has policy implications as well, since it means that the DPJ may not need the Social Democrats (old-school socialists) or the People’s New Party (who want to turn the clock back on Post Office reform as well as public works expenditures) to hold a stable majority in the Upper House. I’ll see if I have more to say on this point, as well as the time to do so. In the meantime, for those of you who can read Japanese, this is the text of Ozawa’s Sherman speech, and this is the press Q&A.

Sorry, folks. I don’t think I’ll have the time today to respond to the comments on earlier posts. (Gotta take care of dinner.) I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, okay?


T. Greer said...

Ozawa has caused the DPJ to dip in popularity; how long of a grace period is needed before the poll numbers start bouncing back up?

At this point I am thinking the LDP's only chance at winning will come if they can schedule elections before the DPJ become popular again. At this point, is this even a possibility? Now that Ozawa has resigned, will Aso accelerate the schedule for the election?

Jun Okumura said...

T. Greer: The important thing about the Ozawa dip was that the DPJ numbers held up, all things considered. (Thanks to Ross for pointing that out by email.) With Ozawa out of the public eye, I expect independents/floaters who had drifted away from the DPJ to come back very quickly barring an unseemly (and highly unlikely) messy succession fight with Ozawa playing the kingmaker role. A Lower House snap general election must be announced at least twelve days prior to the event. That’s more than enough time for the electorate to turn, especially if it sees the LDP rushing the election schedule purely for political gain.

So no, I don’t think Aso will accelerate the event. His best long-shot gambit in my view is to wait it out to see if the economy registers an unexpectedly early and major uptick.