Now that the House of Representatives election is right around the corner, with the Democratic Party of Japan looking to pummel the Liberal Democratic Party into shards, the attention of the DPJ's leadership is turning to more pressing matters -- namely, what to do with elections chairman and former party leader Ozawa Ichirō. He will be coming off having led the party's electoral machinery to an overwhelming victory. Dozens of the newly elected newcomers will have been personally recruited by Ozawa himself, becoming what some papers are calling "Ozawa's children" in imitation of the "Koizumi children" of the 2005 election. These newcomers will vastly expand the ranks of the already formidable "Ozawa military battalion" (Ozawa gundan) within the DPJ -- the Diet members with ties of personal obligation to Ozawa.
After such a smashing performance in his day job, and with so much of the party's membership closer to him than to party leader Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa could wreak havoc upon the unity of the DPJ. He needs something to keep him busy and out of the limelight, a task employing his considerable talents for mischief that nevertheless keeps him away from the post-election personnel assignment process.
Tobias Harris has repeatedly stated a belief that Ozawa needs to have a post in the new Cabinet. He believes that the Cabinet will lack credibility if Ozawa, the DPJ's big ideas man, is not a part of it. I appreciate the logic of this position. However, I join with the Tokyo Shimbun in guessing that having Ozawa in the Cabinet would be a huge distraction, for two reasons. First, Ozawa has so much more gray matter in between his ears than his colleagues and is so much more important to the DPJ rank and file that whatever ministerial post he landed in, that ministry would become the true power center of the government. Second, the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office is determined to make good on its indictment of Ozawa's former political secretary. The trial of Okubo Takanori for campaign finance violations will inevitably draw attention as to what Ozawa knew when about the activities of his subordinate. Having reporters needling a sitting Cabinet member about his knowledge of alleged crimes committed by his former closest advisor would break the back of a DPJ government. It would be far better to quarantice Ozawa's problems within the DPJ, rather than have them haunt the new Cabinet during what will likely be a very difficult first few months of the Hatoyama Administration.
As the Tokyo Shimbun article notes, the DPJ does have an emergency outlet: the 2010 House of Councillors election. The DPJ would very much like to win an outright majority in the House of Councillors, replacing the coalition it has been forced to maintain with the Socialists, the Communists and the Japan New Party. Ozawa, the elections manager extraordinaire, should be free to wander the countryside for next 11 months as he did all these last few years, calling on voting groups and forging electoral alliances. Ozawa is an elections magician: having him do anything else but run a campaign is a waste of material.
Let us hope he himself sees the wisdom of his being reappointed to the position he currently holds.