Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ozawa will be secretary-general

Hatoyama Yukio has made perhaps the most important personnel decision that he will have to make as the DPJ transitions into power. Ozawa Ichiro, his predecessor as DPJ leader, architect of the DPJ's election victory, and without question the most powerful figure within the DPJ, will serve as the party's secretary-general.

The reason why this decision is controversial is simple: as I argued at Foreign Policy last month, Ozawa as secretary-general could act precisely as he did in 1993-1994 and as LDP party officials have acted throughout the party's time in government. He could inject himself into the policy process, using his control of the party apparatus to exercise a veto over cabinet decisions. The DPJ has quite rightly indicated that it wants to centralize power in cabinet, preventing the politicians outside the cabinet from playing a dominant role in the policymaking process. I have written about this dilemma before. How can the DPJ form a cabinet without its most powerful figure included in its ranks? As MTC has argued, there are obvious downsides to including Ozawa in the campaign, not least the scandal hanging over his head.

There are several arguments for why Ozawa is particularly worrisome as secretary-general. The first concerns Ozawa's behavior in past coalition governments, the 1993-1994 Hosokawa government and his Liberal Party's coalition with the LDP in 1999. With Ozawa's having manipulated past governments, why shouldn't he act the same this time around? Of course, it is possible that Ozawa is unchanged from 1993, that he has not reflected at all on how the Hosokawa government fell apart — but reports suggest he is regretful about how he drove the Socialist Party into the arms of the LDP in 1994. Beyond the record of Ozawa's past behavior, there isn't much to this argument. It is simply impossible to know the workings of Ozawa's mind. It is possible that he has learned, it is possible that he will be able to control himself and focus on winning the 2010 upper house election for the DPJ as Hatoyama hopes he will, that he will respect that he is not in the cabinet and that his job will be to convey the cabinet's wishes to backbenchers and make them follow its lead. Controlling 308 Diet members, after all, will take someone with Ozawa's influence in the party.

This aspect of the job leads into the second fear regarding Ozawa as secretary-general, that because of the so-called "Ozawa children" Ozawa will be able to use the power of numbers to pressure the cabinet to do his bidding. The idea of the Ozawa children — of whom there are said to be 120 — is that because Ozawa had a direct hand in their being elected (and some had some relationship with Ozawa prior to running for office), he has gained their loyalty and will be able to use them to his advantage. But talk of this group constituting a faction is, at the very least, premature. The Ozawa group — the Isshin kai — has been more of a study group for young party members than a faction in the sense of the LDP's factions. What evidence is there that the influx of members who have benefited from Ozawa's tutelage will result in the Ozawa group coalescing into a dominant faction, other than the speculation of the media, that is? Once again, it is a question of Ozawa's being able to control himself, using his power to support the government instead of using it to undermine the cabinet.

And incidentally, the joint Asahi-University of Tokyo survey of newly elected Diet members asked the DPJ's first-termers which party leader they view as their "parent." Both Hatoyama and Okada edged out Ozawa, with Okada being a fraction more popular than Hatoyama. The point is that the relationship between the party's newly elected backbenchers and the party leadership is far more nuanced than fevered reporting about the "Ozawa faction" would suggest.

Hatoyama, of course, insisted Thursday that there would not be a dual power structure with Ozawa as secretary-general. He also stressed that the biggest reason for naming Ozawa secretary-general is to have him prepare the DPJ for its next electoral test, the 2010 upper house election.

But for now it is impossible to know precisely how Ozawa will act as the party's chief official outside of the cabinet. If past behavior is in fact the best predictor of future behavior, then Ozawa's appointment could be disastrous. But if Ozawa has in fact learned from past mistakes and if he is able to control himself — and if Ozawa acts differently as secretary-general as leader of a party with a huge majority in the lower house than as the leader of a small party in coalition with others — then it is possible that he could be an asset for Hatoyama, keeping the party's backbenchers in line and delivering the government's message to voters around in the country in advance of next year's election.


Anonymous said...

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don't problem. If he was totally out of any position of power, the papers would report about the ni-ju kozo. If he was in a cabinet post, the papers would report about how he wouldn't be able to keep his hand out of appointments. I think this really is the best post for him. It makes what is true in any case - his dominance - transparent rather than opaque. The exercise of this power will be done in meetings, rather than in back-rooms.

The history of the coalition with the LDP, which I know well, is not at all to his detriment either I have to say. He acted well during that period; it was others (notably Noda Takeshi) who had blood on their hands, followed by opportunists such as Koike Yuriko.

Adam said...

Leadership issues facing the two major parties bring to mind Rex Murphy's comments: One party (DPJ) has one leader which may be too many, whilst the other (LDP) has many leaders which may not be enough. Murphy was referring to the Canadian elections last year, but the description fits Nagato-cho easily. With Ozawa in the fold a titular head seems, well, titular at best. Meanwhile the LDP has many heavy-hitting veterans but lacks a coach.

Re: "Hatoyama's essay": The problem here is nobody is sure what document classification to use for his text. Was it a policy statement? If so, it was dumb. However, if it was an address such as for an inauguration, then the flighty content is to be expected. I have Obama's Inauguration Speech (and Japanese translation) in my bathroom. There are resemblences in both content and style.

That being said, Tobias is right to say the DPJ has a PR problem. Hopefully with experience will come control. Now they know opponents here and abroad will use their own words against them, or manufacture them in translation.

What is apparent is that the US "Japan experts" -- the "Chi-Nichi-ha" -- have been thrown a curve (unpredictable thing, democracy), and there will be more criticism from politicos like Green. Partly this will come from differences in policy or vision. The overriding problem is that DC has no inside-track with the DPJ.

Prof. Gerald Curtis probably faces the same challenge. For years his status has depended upon his connections within the LDP, to the extent he sometimes resembled a spokesman. It will be interesting to see how his rhetoric towards Japan in general will change; my guess is that it will be harsh until he establishes good communication within the DPJ leadership. This represents another PR issue for the new ruling party.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the "least worst" decision Hatoyama could have made, as you've alluded to before. When (not if) the Nishimatsu Construction scandal widens, it will cause less damage to the government if Ozawa was outside the cabinet than if he was within.

Yute the Beaute said...

This may be looking far too ahead but I would not rule out further realignment amongst the Diet members somewhere down the line. The overwhelming majority of 308 seems to have dashed the likelihood of immediate maneuvre. However, the coalition with the Socialists and sundry others may result in some policy stalemate at the cabinet level in relation to certain badly needed reformist agenda. Upon such instances, having Ozawa, the supreme political manipulator, sitting outside the cabinet (thus outside and not subject to the collective responsibility) may prove to be useful and essential in getting agenda through.
Let's see how it goes. Either way, as Bette Davis said in "All About Eve", fasten your seatbelts: it's going to be a bumpy night.