Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Shuffling districts?

At a press conference Wednesday at DPJ headquarters, Ozawa Ichiro hinted at the possibility that he, along with several other prominent figures from the DPJ and other opposition parties, will change districts in the next general election to campaign against governing coalition heavyweights holding seats in Tokyo.

Asahi suggests that if Mr. Ozawa makes the jump from his home district of Iwate-4, he would run in Tokyo-12 against Komeito's Ota Akihiro, who has only ran in Tokyo-12 twice, first in 2003 by a 3,600-vote margin and again in 2005, by a 36,000-vote margin. With Komeito vulnerable, especially after the party's disastrous showing in the 2007 HC election, in which only nine of twenty-four Komeito candidates won, the party's lowest "batting average" in an HC election since 1974, a victory by Mr. Ozawa over the party's leader could be the symbol of Komeito's demise.

The opposition might also have Tanaka Yasuo, former maverick Nagano governor and current HC member from Nagano as a representative of his own New Party Japan (NPJ) run in Tokyo's eighth district against the LDP's Ishihara Nobuteru, former cabinet minister and potential contender for the premiership in the future. Hatoyama Yukio and Okada Katsuya have also been mentioned as possible DPJ "assassins."

There are some who doubt the wisdom of Mr. Ozawa's scheme, however; Asahi notes that some DPJ members are concerned that if Mr. Ozawa has to focus on campaigning in a new district and defeating a prominent foe, he will not be able to travel the country on behalf of DPJ candidates.

I wonder whether this proposal isn't indicative of (over)confidence on Mr. Ozawa's part, so sure is he that not only will the DPJ be able to sweep the LDP out of Tokyo by parachuting heavyweights into Tokyo districts but that second-tier DPJ candidates will be able to retain seats vacated by said heavyweights. Maybe his overconfidence is merited, particularly in regard to his home district in Iwate (AKA Ozawa's kingdom). Maybe the DPJ stands on the brink of a major victory in the next general election. There are certainly signs that suggest that a tipping point has been reached in the public's tolerance for the LDP's policy failures; maybe the Japanese people are finally ready to punish the LDP in a general election and vote for any candidate with "DPJ" next to his or her name. But if that's not the case, this strategy could backfire by forcing formerly secure, heavyweight incumbents to campaign hard for seats while throwing their formerly safe seats open to competition.

In an election that could result in a hung parliament, all 300 single-member districts matter. The DPJ must think hard about whether Mr. Ozawa's suggestion maximizes the party's ability to fight across the country. Will the party be better off leaving Mr. Ozawa and other leaders in safe districts, enabling them to campaign harder for weaker candidates?

1 comment:

AC said...

This strikes me as a bad idea for several reasons.

First, why in the world would the DPJ want to make things personal with the Komeito? What happens if the DPJ wins enough seats to become the largest party in the Lower House but is still short of a majority? Do they think they can rely on the SDP and the Communists to support their legislative agenda? It seems to me that the option of teaming up with the Komeito should at least be kept in reserve, and taking Ota's scalp would engender much ill will.

That's if Ozawa wins. How embarrassing will it be if he loses, which is likely given his unpopularity, and has to rely on proportional representation to get a seat? And where will he be on the DPJ list?

And regardless of what happens with the Komeito, Soka Gakkai has a lot of members and money, and they aren't going away anytime soon.

In contrast, Ishihara Nobuteru is quite popular in Tokyo, and I can't see him losing his seat to an interloper, let alone one as strange as Tanaka Yasuo. Hatoyama and the grim-faced Okada as assassins? It would have to be a weak candidate who could get picked off by either of those two.

Finally, while people are fed up with the LDP, I don't see any kind of positive support for the DPJ. The polls don't show it. The DPJ has to date functioned as a "receptacle" for anti-LDP votes, but once the prospect of Ozawa taking power after the next general election emerges as a real possibility in the public mind, I have to wonder if anti-LDP sentiment will be enough to get the DPJ over the hump. I doubt it will be.

It certainly is the DPJ's election to lose; it just seems like they're looking for a way to do just that.