Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ozawa Goes For It

One can find English language accounts of Ozawa Ichiro's decision (as if, in a less-than-half-an-hour meeting, there was any internal debate on Ozawa's part) to proceed with his campaign against Kan Naoto's leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan here and here.

By far the best account, however, comes from Paul Jackson at The Diplomat. Ozawa's windup to his announcement of his decision to take on Kan was indeed "seemingly interminable," a stultifying 1283 characters of the most obtuse polite language, dragging along until finally reaching its spirit-crushing climax, "It has come to the point where I decided to do this thing known as running in the leadership election..." (daihyosenkyo ni shutsuba sure to iu ketsui o shita tokoro de gozaimasu). It was performance that, despite an intention possibly to inform, could only upset an already largely hysterically anti-Ozawa press. Had Japan any equivalent of America's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on any of its networks, the long-winded address would have been the subject of merciless ridicule.

Ozawa's overlong announcement of his decision after a highly abbreviated first meeting of the two power brokers of the same party since the July 11 elections -- a meeting Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan, has been asking for since July 12 -- only burnished the reputation of Hatoyama Yukio, adding "negotiating a settlement between political heavyweights" to the list of things he seemingly cannot do. For a man with a Ph.D. in Systems Operations, Hatoyama has an alarming tendency to miscalculate the way certain combinations of actions will interact and bring about suboptimal outcomes. What he thought he was doing when he invited Ozawa and his retinue of 100 up to the Hatoyama mountain retreat to mingle and drink along his own 60-member group, leading to a tipsy and embarrassing chants of "Kiai da! Kiai da! Kiai da!" ("Now's the moment! Go for it!") by the entire mass -- well, he will have plenty of time to think about it, now that his mediation efforts, turgid as they were, have come to naught.

That Ozawa and Kan will be facing each other directly in a contest for the leadership of the party is a good thing. Under the Liberal Democratic Party, too many selections of prime ministers and Cabinets took place out of the public eye, for reasons of power and money that cheapened the image of the prime minister and the government. Here two competing visions of Japan will clash publicly, as well as two personal political styles and sets of practices.

The terrible news is of course that Ozawa could win this contest. An Ozawa victory would be terrible for the country not because Ozawa is an ogre with policies that will break the nation (he is not) nor a sleazy politician on the verge being made to stand trial for his crimes (as far as anyone can tell, he has no connection to the accounting mistakes of his underlings). It is terrible because he has virtually no support among the public and in the party. In the most recent round of public opinion polls, the highest level of support recorded was 17% of the populace in the Mainichi and Nikkei Shimbun polls. His support level among self-identified Democrats was even lower than in the general population. Despite this, so many Diet members owe him favors that he could win the majority of the points needed for election from them whilst getting gored in the local assembly elections and wiped out in the 300 district elections.

To make matters worse, most of the DPJ's luminaries are in the anti-Ozawa camp. When it would come time for Ozawa to pick a Cabinet, he would be able to induce only a cast of B-list and C-list non-entities with little policy experience and even less political savvy to his side.

In addition, the policies Ozawa insists his leadership of the party will save from Kan's lack of enthusiasm are not all that popular with the public. Most of the promises made in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto engender only weak support, while others -- such as the elimination of tolls on the expressways -- are actively opposed by the majority of the citizens.

The press will have a field day.

The fate of the country thus rests on the shoulders of the Diet's youngest members, many of whom were handpicked by Ozawa to run in their districts. If they vote with not their cerebrums but with their limbic systems, writing down Ozawa's name in fear of upsetting their benefactor, they may be handing the country over to a man the people simply do not want as their leader. Whatever his personal and political attributes, that he will be seen and portrayed as one who taken the reins of the country through a sly manipulation of the DPJ's election rules, against the will of the people.

Trouble with a capital "T" -- to put it mildly.

So while Ozawa may be an elections genius and/or the only person with the ability to push legislation through the Diet due to his purported mastery of deal cutting, it will be a national tragedy if he wins this contest.

When the citizens handed the powers of government over to the DPJ last year, the elation was palpable. The voters, finally and without a doubt, had chosen a government, not had one imposed upon them. An Ozawa victory in the DPJ leadership contest would reverse this huge step forward for the Japanese electorate. It could easily snuff out the still fervent belief that, even after a year of DPJ missteps, the DPJ is the party of the people and the people are sovereign -- and that the people's views, feelings and votes are important.

Later - A belated tip of the hat to Okumura Jun for the link to the Ozawa announcement.


Anonymous said...

"Burnished his reputation" .... ? methinks shurely further tarnished. Then again, maybe English does not have a way to describe a further decline in something.
Michael, why don't you have a contest to find a word to describe the every downward spiraling of Mr Hatoyama's reputation. All people have to do is fill in the blank ".... Mr. Hatoyama's reputation for making things worse than they were."
hmmmm ... I see a statue ... and lots of pigeons....
"Bird droppededly Mr. Hatoyama's reputation for making things worse than they were."

There. I will throw down the gauntlet to Our Man in Abiko!

ps. She who must be obeyed of my household was incredulous and fuming at the turn in events. Ozawa, truly the destroyer as The Times Richard Lloyd Perry always describes him (although I am not sure since the paywall went up.)

Anonymous said...

Oopps, my prose should have read "ever downward"...

Anonymous said...

This is true, I think. The interesting thing about this battle though, is the Sengoku-Ozawa narrative. Here is where the real battle lies. Between the two souls that inhabit the DPJ. The outcasts that have their first taste of power, against the enfant terrible of the ancien regime. It's a great script, and was inevitable once Ozawa's acolytes were shut out of the post-Hatoyama Cabinet. Kan is culpable in this mess, methinks.