Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Ozawa Candidacy Frenzy


At one point, it is the question one has to ask.

"Why is Ozawa Ichiro, architect of both the Democratic Party of Japan's stunning victory in the August elections of 2009 and the stunning defeat in the July elections of this year, going through the motions of running against current prime minister Kan Naoto for the position of DPJ party leader, when no one aside from his cronies or acolytes wants him to? He is despised by the public, or at best deeply mistrusted. He would be electoral poison for the party in local elections. His policy platform, as outlined in the 2009 Democratic Party Manifesto, cannot be enacted, either due to the lack of funds in the national budget or the inability to pass enabling legislation through the opposition-dominated House of Councillors. Ozawa faces indictment by the the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution for falsified political fund reports, an almost inevitable event that will trigger his immediate resignation from all public and party posts.

The incentives for his running all point in the negative direction. If he wins the contest, he destroys the party: either metaphorically through the collapse of its public support or physically as large groups break off, forming new parties. If he loses a formal leadership contest, he gashes his aura of awesome power. The humiliation of losing could indeed drive him to leave the party, with a passel of his followers in tow (taking his ball and going home -- which he has done time and time again).

Given all the bad an Ozawa candidacy could cause, why are we seeing his followers and dependents -- Yamaoka Kenji , Mitsui Wakio, Tarutoko Shinji et al falling over one another in ever more grandiose and sycophantic predictions of how inevitable and wonderful an Ozawa candidacy should be?

An enervated political press

We are still in August, after the July elections yet before the fall extraordinary session of the Diet. In normal times - that is to say Liberal Democratic Party times - there would be would be nothing much to report on in terms of political stories aside from who was playing golf with who in Karuizawa.

However, this year, the reporters have the September 14 DPJ election. Reporting upon what is happening in the election itself would be too much. It is actually three different elections being conducted under three different sets of rules, with far too many participants -- regular party members and supporters, DPJ members of local assemblies, and then and only then the DPJ members of the Diet. Keeping track of all of as it evolves organically, especially what the hundreds of thousands of party members are thinking, is simply too for a single reporter or even a gang of them to follow.

Why not then invent a false narrative, of a champion rising up to challenge the party status quo -- which has been the status quo, mind you, for all of two and a half months. A first attempt to promote Kaieda Banri fizzled out, not the least of which because replacing Kan, a battle-hardened, willy, Tokyo-based party founder with a mop-haired, sallow,Tokyo-based party tag-along did not meet basic plausibility standards.

So began the speculation that the Man, the Dark Lord, the Hidden Power would himself challenge Kan for the post of party leader. What a fantastic story! Ozawa with his legion of loyalists and dependents, calling in all the various favors so many in the party owe to him in order to defeat Kan, whose support is a shallow agreement that he is probably the best man for the job and the best person to represent the party before the people. Ozawa, who crawls back from the humiliation of Kan suggesting he remain quiet for the sake of the party and his own good, to force Kan to himself taste the bitterness of defeat. The return of the driven proponent of profligacy and centralization of power against the more circumspect advocate of moderation in policy and delegation of powers and responsibilities.

And oh the palace politics! The screams, whispers and crashes from behind the shoji screens! The dueling sound bites from the partisans on either side!

That's entertainment!

Yes. Precisely.

Which is why the television and print news media, which swarmed around the Ozawa's stroll into Hatoyama Yukio's garden party in Karuizawa on Thursday like a media rush around the Narita gate arrival of a South Korean boy band, should be ashamed of themselves. They are not reporting the news, they are manufacturing it, then hyping it, all in the hopes of drawing viewers to believe important a struggle that in objective terms may not even exist.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

One of the ancillary features of the coverage of the purported Ozawa challenge to Kan's leadership is the driving out of any serious coverage of what other parties are doing. Closely following the machinations and covert meetings of the groups of the DPJ, most of overlap in many ways (you would need a Venn diagram of intersecting circles to give a sense of the structure of the DPJ, when all you needed for its predecessor the LDP was a list of the factions names and their members' names) crowds out all other national political news, relegating reporting on other parties (Does anyone remember the last time Watanabe Yoshimi and the Your Party made the evening newscast?) to the margins.

The DPJ is on the news? No, the DPJ is the news!

Of course, focusing so much attention on a real/unreal/surreal (chose one) battle within the DPJ runs the risk of reminding the public of the raging factional battles of the unmissed LDP. Minister Ren Ho specifically mentioned this danger on Friday.

Regaining some measure of respect

As suspiciously high number of those most active in the promotion of an Ozawa candidacy are the Diet members who lost the most in the transition from the Hatoyama to the Kan administrations. The poster boy for this movement is Hirano Hirofumi, who made a complete hash of the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary during the Hatoyama Cabinet. He has been attending all the meetings that either openly or surreptitiously are in favor of drafting Ozawa to challenge Kan.

Having seriously damaged individuals like Hirano as the most visible advocates is possibly an indication that Ozawa himself is not planning to mount a challenge, and is only lending his name to others so that they may regain some of their former stature -- however, temporary that elevation to their former statuses may be.

Titanic ego

In the end, this dramatic buildup may lead to an even more dramatic announcement later this week or early next (the candidate list is formalized on September 1). Ozawa may indeed actually believe that he and not Kan Naoto should be leader of the DPJ and by extension, the prime minister of Japan. He may be surround by yes-me and yes-women convincing him that he not has the right, he has the votes to prevail.

If he does announce himself a candidate, then all hell breaks loose. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, who is rarely a wordsmith, still put the problem most succinctly:

"That a person who has a chance of being indicted should become the party leader and the prime minister leaves me with a sense of uneasiness."

1 comment:

PaxAmericana said...

Couldn't a large part of this be a negotiating tactic? Politics is largely the art of getting what you want. And the reality is that the DPJ is a group of factions, just like the LDP was.

It seems to me a sign of the troubles in the DPJ can be seen from this. It looks like Kan should be leaving, as he did a poor job in the election, which is the highest priority for a politician in peacetime. Unfortunately, there is no way to replace him without bringing in Ozawa.