Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ozawa's last stand?

"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs." — Enoch Powell
Returning to his familiar role as Ozawa Ichirō's trusty factotum, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio announced Thursday that he will be supporting Ozawa in a bid to unseat Prime Minister Kan Naoto in next month's DPJ party leadership election. Ozawa himself has yet to make an official announcement, but much like when Hatoyama was DPJ secretary-general under Ozawa, Ozawa conveyed his intentions to Hatoyama, and Hatoyama revealed them to the public. Naturally Hatoyama's backing Ozawa after earlier indicating his support for Kan is an insult to the prime minister.

I have held off from commenting on the possibility of an Ozawa run at the party leadership and premiership because the idea struck me as patently absurd (for reasons that Michael Cucek captured well here and here).

And yet here we are, with Ozawa on the brink of entering the ring once more. I suppose on the plus side, at least he's competing for a public post, one that would force Ozawa to assume public responsibility instead of hiding out of sight.

There is no shortage of speculation about Ozawa's motives for running, having to do with his tenuous legal position, his desire to reinsert himself into the policymaking process by running, losing, and then bargaining for an important post, or his genuine desire to, in Hatoyama's words, "to risk his life on behalf of the country." I have long since given up trying to read Ozawa's mind and am willing to believe that any, or all, or none of these reasons is the real reason for Ozawa's decision.

Whatever his reasoning, the consequences could be dramatic. The best-case scenario would be that Ozawa is simply unable to muster enough support and goes down to an embarrassing defeat that is a prelude to his departure from politics. It is unclear just how much support from the party's parliamentary caucus Ozawa can count on — for my part, I have always thought that the media has exaggerated the extent to which Ozawa can rely on an "army" of young MPs indebted to him for his assistance. Even more unknowable is the extent of Ozawa's support among the party's rank-and-file members, who will also be voting in the party election. Given the near-universal public disapproval (including DPJ supporters) of Ozawa, it is worth asking whether there are still enough pockets of support for the former party leader to make his candidacy viable.

And if he were, somehow, to defeat Kan and take the premiership? Many seem to think that Ozawa's becoming DPJ leader would be the catalyst for the long-awaited political realignment (although Your Party's Watanabe Yoshimi insists that the DPJ will break regardless of what Ozawa does). It is easy enough to see how Ozawa could trigger the realignment. Remember the "purge" of Ozawa loyalists that marked the transition from Hatoyama to Kan? Presumably the "magistrates" who opposed Ozawa and have occupied important positions under Kan would have little to look forward to under Ozawa, and would have two options outside of the cabinet: build anti-mainstream "factions" within the DPJ to challenge Ozawa, thereby completing the LDP-ization of the DPJ, or leave the party altogether to join with Watanabe or form yet another new political party. 

The reality is that while at another point in his career Ozawa might have been able to deliver a miracle, untwisting the Diet by encouraging members of other parties to defect or hammering out a new governing coalition, there is good reason to believe that Ozawa is out of miracles. As Kan has found as he has tried to coax the opposition parties to cooperate, with the DPJ reeling the opposition parties have the upper hand. The DPJ will pay a steeper price than the opposition parties for inaction, particularly as the economy worsens. Add Ozawa's unpopularity and his notoriety as a living symbol of the bad, old politics and the opposition's advantage grows. And if a Prime Minister Ozawa were the head of a nominally united but fractured DPJ his bargaining power would be undermined even further. Whoever wins the party election will still face a miserable political situation. Having Ozawa as prime minister would only make the DPJ's situation even more difficult.

It is ultimately for that reason that I suspect that Ozawa will provide another demonstration of Enoch Powell's maxim, adding a final defeat to a lengthy political career that has seen its share of defeats along with extraordinary victories, arguably none more extraordinary the DPJ's victory a year ago next Monday. Ozawa simply does not have a compelling case for why he should take charge of the government at this juncture — and I think that the party's voters know it.

14 comments:

akikana said...

...how about this as the endgame he's working to: resurrection of the Grand Coalition with LDP? Ozawa gets to finally run the country albeit for a short period and as a further reward from all his cronies/friends/establishment he finally gets the prosecutors off his back.

These guys cannot even manage themselves why do they continue to think they can manage a country? With the old guard back in the driving seat the resumption of the normal running of the country can be re-instigated. I can hear the Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki salivations already...more pork barrels anyone?

akikana said...

...more coals for the fire?

"... Article 75 of the Constitution says state ministers cannot be prosecuted without consent from the prime minister. This suggests Ozawa could avoid indictment."

Keebler said...

Or how about this? Ozawa is running because Kan's incompetence will further damage Japan and make the DPJ a minority party once again. Remember, in this year's elections, it was Kan who ran athwart the wisdom of Ozawa on taxes by promising to punish voters with higher taxes if elected. That's the path to party ruin and more than just Ozawa knows it. Kan should not be a PM but a dentist because his root canal economics have been a disaster for the DPJ.

Keebler said...

Or how about this? Ozawa is running because Kan's incompetence will further damage Japan and make the DPJ a minority party once again. Remember, in this year's elections, it was Kan who ran athwart the wisdom of Ozawa on taxes by promising to punish voters with higher taxes if elected. That's the path to party ruin and more than just Ozawa knows it. Kan should not be a PM but a dentist because his root canal economics have been a disaster for the DPJ.

rabuho said...

his root canal economics have been a disaster for the DPJ.

I fail to see how one can pass judgment on the PM's policies after only having been in office for a grand total of TWO AND A HALF MONTHS, about half of which he spent preparing for and fighting an election battle and much of which the Diet hasn't even been in session.

Also, a thorough and reasoned comment regarding the relative improvement Ozawa's economic "policies" would bring to Japan would be appreciated.

Keebler said...

Look, going into this year's election DPJ members were admitting to the press that no party has ever done well campaigning on tax hikes. But Kan can be credited as the first PM from the DPJ to campaign on the idea of raising the consumption tax. At least Koizumi and Ozawa shared the insight that you don't win votes by campaigning on tax hikes. Koizumi would always promise that such an increase would not occur during his administration. And Ozawa-Hatoyama's stress on economic growth instead of tax hikes, is far superior politically than running as an austerian. For all his cunning, it's clear that Ozawa understands that the electorate will punish austerian administrations/candidates and so is looking to save his party from falling back into minority status. If the Ozawa bloc wins this contest a corporate tax reduction is more likely, in my opinion, than under Kan. That's better economics.

Tobias Harris said...

I think you give Ozawa way too much credit when it comes to economic policy, in that I don't think he would be coming into office with anything resembling an economic program.

Considering how every day brings worse news for the Japanese economy, arguably the most important thing at this point is having a government in place doing its job. An Ozawa victory will no doubt mean a cabinet reshuffle, which will mean new ministers adjusting to new ministers, to say nothing of the consequences of an Ozawa victory for politics within the DPJ.

However mistaken the consumption tax pledge was, it's simply not a good enough reason to change prime ministers, especially now that a consumption tax increase is basically off the agenda.

Elizabeth said...

I agree it is largely the inquest committee that is driving this timing. If not for the threat of prosecution, Ozawa would be able to bide his time until Kan comes close to resignation (next Spring ?)

akikana said...

rabuho wrote: "...I fail to see how one can pass judgment on the PM's policies after only having been in office for a grand total of TWO AND A HALF MONTHS, about half of which he spent preparing for and fighting an election battle and much of which the Diet hasn't even been in session."

The fact that 50% of this time has been wasted with political infighting whilst outside Japan continues to crumble (slipping to 3rd largest world economy barely registered any cause for concern) is more than enough time to be in a position to pass judgement on the effectiveness of Kan/DPJ as a viable governing party...

Tobias Harris said...

Akikana,

China — a country with 1.3 billion people — was going to pass Japan sooner or later. That it happened to do so in the midst of political turmoil in Japan is irrelevant. There's a reason why people pay more attention to per-capita GDP, because it controls for population size. The lack of concern over this bit of trivia is entirely appropriate.

George of Japan said...

Couple of questions:

If Ozawa were to win and become Prime Minister, would that indefinitely prevent his indictment? I see akikana's post regarding Article 75, with which I am wholly unfamiliar. However, couldn't a PM be indicted after he eventually leaves his post, sort of like a Roman Consul?

How big a deal/surprise was Hatoyama's switch of support from Kan to Ozawa? Does his switch of support lend enough to Ozawa's bid to put him in position to win? At times, it seems like Ozawa has photos of Kan naked with a farm animal the way the owns him, but he did essentially make him PM of Japan. If/when Ozawa loses, doesn't that also drag down Hatoyama since they seem attached at the hip?

akikana said...

Sure per capita GDP 'levels the playing field' somewhat but until the US tops that list I don't think many of the good and the wise (i.e. CNBC puppets) will be trumpetting it as a measure of global economic strength. Total size of economy and Japan's impending demotion has been on the radar screen and 'promoted' in the FT and their ilk for most of the year. So the silence on my nightly NHK news about it was deafening. That said, totally agree about the lack of importance that should be paid to it. ('Twas a bad example to use in trying to show where the DPJ should have been focussing their attention.)

In response to George of Japan, I have no idea what happens after he vacates the hot seat. I guess that by then all his 'problems' will have been resoved in one of those dark, mysterious 'back rooms'. That will be an Ozawa condition for handing over the reins to the LDP.

Rhino said...

A few hundred years ago Ozawa would have committed seppuku by now. And Hatoyama? They would have denied him that honour.

Lionel W said...

i have just read another article implicitly comparing ozawa to darth vader