Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sengoku steps forward?

Is this the next leader of the DPJ?

That is Sengoku Yoshito, a five-term member of the House of Representatives from Tokushima's first district.

When we last heard from him (on this blog), he was leading the fight against the nomination of Muto Toshiro to be the governor of the Bank of Japan from his position as chairman of the DPJ's subcommittee on joint appointments. Thanks in part to his opposition, Ozawa Ichiro opted for a harder line on the BOJ succession than he had perhaps initially intended, outmaneuvering Mr. Sengoku and other DPJ rivals while embarrassing the government (and, some would say, the DPJ) at the same time.

Speaking at a fundraising party in Tokushima, Mr. Sengoku alluded to a possible run against Mr. Ozawa in the party's forthcoming leadership election.

There is a certain logic to a Sengoku candidacy. At 62, Mr. Sengoku is the oldest member of the Maehara group and enjoys a reputation as the guardian of the rabble of (mostly) thirty- and forty-somethings. His anti-Ozawa credentials are sound — he was a prominent critic of Mr. Ozawa's attempt to form a grand coalition last November — and as a former member of the Socialist Party he is somewhat out of place in the hawkish conservative Maehara group. All of which make him an ideal patsy for the Maehara group, ensuring both that Mr. Ozawa is not reelected unchallenged and that allowing the young, ambitious members of the group to keep their powder dry for a future leadership election.

It grows increasingly unlikely that Mr. Sengoku or anyone else will unseat Mr. Ozawa. The DPJ's Hokkaido chapter has already declared its support for Mr. Ozawa on the basis of the party's success in elections under his leadership, a not entirely surprising announcement given that Hokkaido is something of a DPJ kingdom (home to both Hatoyama Yukio and Yokomichi Takahiro, head of the DPJ's former Socialist wing). Hokkaido is unlikely to be alone for long.

Mr. Ozawa, meanwhile, claims to be focused only on his next swing through the country's regions, scheduled for August. Asked about Mr. Sengoku's remarks, Mr. Ozawa said, "Since Setagaya-kun or anyone else who wants to step forward is free to do so, they may step forward."

The DPJ may get the best of all outcomes: an election, which deprives LDP members like Nakagawa Hidenao of the argument that the DPJ is less than democratic and not to be trusted, but one that is not especially rancorous and returns Mr. Ozawa to power with a solid mandate with which to proceed in his campaign to unseat the LDP.

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