Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is Ozawa Ichirō Blowing It?

With his party way ahead in the public opinion polls, even the ones conducted by the most government-friendly of media groups, riding high not only on near-term disgust with the Agriculture Ministry and pension scandals but also the nearly irreversible general trend of decreasing satisfaction with the LDP*; winning congeniality points for not standing in the way of the government's supplementary budget and Indian Ocean dispatch renewal bills (causing pundits to splutter that a lack of debate in either house leaving the public in the dark about the necessity of the Indian Ocean dispatch) one would think that Ozawa Ichirō would sit back and let the government and the ruling coalition dance about in pathetic attempts to get credit for governing in a not-entirely stupid way.

Rather than letting things be, Ozawa has, in the midst of a global economic meltdown, come out roaring against Asō Tarō's plans for a second and possibly a third supplementary budget. In Ozawa's view, what Japan really needs is a dissolution of the Diet and a House of Representatives election.

It's fall festival time, and Prime Minister Asō Tarō and members of his economic team are carrying a mikoshi topped with a yen symbol down the street. The rowdy group shouts out, "Let's lift the up the economy!" "We're throwing money all around!" and the like**. Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichirō, dressed as a policeman, blows his whistle and tells the revelers, "Your presence is a pain in the butt for everyone, so hurry up and break it up (dissolve the Diet)."

From the Tokyo Shimbun morning edition of 11 October 2008.

Given the vertiginous collapse of world stock markets; the freezing up of the credit markets in Europe and North America; rising unemployment; a soaring yen and a rapidly deceleration U.S. economy -- all threats to the livelihoods of millions of Japanese -- Ozawa's calling for an election NOW seems, on the surface, remarkably inappropriate (I could also say, "Narcissistic, pig-headed and moronic." There, I said it). The government's planning to use taxpayer yen in order to guard against a severe downturn's becoming a depression is entire apt, intelligent and forward-thinking. If implementing these emergency fiscal measure delays the election -- well, them's the breaks.

Now Ozawa might be coming out against smart policy making due to having truly been incapacitated this week. Perhaps the hospital in which he was staying had no televisions or newspapers, leaving him unaware at the market chaos transpiring across the globe.

The DPJ as a party is certainly not unaware of the severity of the crisis. A special team has been monitoring the situation for weeks, developing policy proposals in response to the deteriorating conditions. DPJ crisis team members have indeed criticized the government for a lack of imagination about how serious the crisis could be, for an an inadequate sense of urgency about the crisis and for an insufficient pace of shoveling money out the door and into the financial system.

Unless someone in the party leadership tells Ozawa to stop stamping his feet and demanding his fall election, the DPJ could face a serious loss of face and momentum. The LDP is always opining that the DPJ is untested, unsound and cannot be trusted to rule the country. Ozawa's post-hospitalization tantrum, seemingly oblivious to a truly dangerous level of world instability, could lead a lot of worried voters to say, "Hey, perhaps the LDP guys are right. The DPJ leaders really cannot be trusted with the serious stuff."

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* I really need to buckle down and write a full post on this subject

** The cartoon has a lot of ancillary wordplay based on the general term matsuri sawagi, literally "festival noise" but meaning "boisterous merrymaking." The Chinese character sei ("politics, government") has been given the spurious pronunciation of matsuri ("festival"). Spurious pronunciations are a frequent feature of the work of this particular cartoonist.


1 comment:

Janne Morén said...

There is the continuity argument for election. The US is currently a splendid example: any rescue plan (how many have there been now?) is by default a temporary bandaid designed to hold things together until the election. At that point a new administration can buckle down and do some long-term planning, put their own people on important posts and so on.

With an election inevitable within a year in Japan, the same argument holds to some extent. Only to some extent, mind you; I agree that calling for it right now is just plain stupid.