Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Ozawa Ichiro As Potential Troublemaker

[Flash - the three lawyers who failed to win a conviction of Ozawa Ichiro with violations of the Political Funds Control Act have decided to appeal the not guilty verdict (J).

It is not too surprising a decision. The trio have an incentive to prove that they were not the fools losing the case made them out to be. They surely received an extra jolt of energy from the trial judge's statements casting doubts on parts of Ozawa's testimony. While the judge's asides did not find Ozawa, as Ishihara Nobuteru put it yesterday, "99% jet black" (J) they did not allow Ozawa to proclaim hiself pure as the driven snow either.

Later - Guessing as to whether or not the prosecuting lawyers have sought to humiliate the Democratic Party of Japan by announcing their decision to retry Ozawa after the DPJ executive voted to reinstate his party privileges is something the reader should not take two seconds to ponder over. Of course, they did. Such abusive behavior is in line with the conduct of this trial and the trials against Ozawa's secretaries, which from the outset have been politics by the most thuggish of means.]

Now, where was I?

I am on the record as believing Ozawa Ichiro faces constraints on his behavior preventing him from becoming the ogre the mainstream and scandal press predict he will be, now that his shackles are being loosed. (E)

However, my assertions have been predicated on Ozawa's understanding that the Democratic Party of Japan is different from the Liberal Democratic Party. Underpinning such a vision is a belief that after winning the control of the Diet through emulating the pork-barrel promises that made the LDP such an unshakable part of the post-Occupation reality, the DPJ would then shift gears and return the decentralized authority, anti-subsidy, anti-protectionist, anti-pork barrel program that made the pary the darlings of the urban white collar consumer vote.

Intrinsic to such vision was a completely overhaul the disenfranchising House of Representatives single-member districts system. At present, 91 of the single-member districts have population greater than twice the population of the smallest district, Kochi #3. The disparity shook even the somnolent Supreme Court to rule last year that the current system is unconstitutional, violating the right of all citizens to equal protection of the law.

However, when Ozawa effectively came to power through the puppet regime of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, revising the electoral system was not the first item on his agenda -- which it should have been if the DPJ were to have any chance at retaining power in the next House of Representatives election. Instead, what Ozawa did, to the horror of many in the media, was to order all of the first-termers, many of whom had specialist knowledge and had entered politics in order to affect and implement policy, out of the government positions to which Prime Minister Hatoyama had appointed (nakedly and brazenly showing who was calling the shots inside the DPJ). Instead, he ordered those stripped of their government positions and all other first-termers to forget policy and concentrate instead on politicking inside their home districts -- which, when you think about it, only makes sense if the borders of the districts were not set to change.

It is true that at the time Ozawa was not under the gun of the Supreme Court, which was not to deliver its ruling for another year, long after Ozawa had been toppled from power over the Futenma climb-down and the revolt of the middle-ranking lifers of the DPJ. However, numerous lower-ranking decisions had found the existing House of Representatives districts unconstitutional. Also, while the DPJ had won control of the House of Representatives with a mixture of disgust for the LDP and borrowing some of the LDP's vote-buying strategies (an Ozawa innovation that transformed the DPJ from a losing urban-surburban party to a winning national party) -- it was clear that the DPJ could not pull those same two rabbits out the hat twice.

For the DPJ, the choice was either reform the system or die.

So as Ozawa is given his freedom, the question is whether during his time in suspension, did he learn what it means to be a member of the DPJ? Or has he remained adamant in his thinking that the way to run Japan is to accept the country as it is and work around the margins, even though that approach has brought him grief time and time again, whether it was in the LDP, the New Frontier Party, the Liberal Party and his time as the power behind Hatoyama's throne?

In terms of policy, the signs are not encouraging. His opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, given the disparate interests of its negotiating members, may just as well end up crashing of its own accord, reveals an unfortunate attachment to the rural vote as it is currently super-empowered.

Ozawa's unwillingness to play ball with the current party leadership over the imposition of a rise in the consumption tax, which is represents a tough, and yes, contractionary solution to a debt mountain not of the DPJ's making, paints a picture of him as a factional bully, throwing around the weight of the 100 or so members of the DPJ beholden to him, rather than as a party man.

Ozawa's defenders insist that whatever the methods employed, Ozawa's primary interest has been the seizing of policy from the bureaucracy and making it answerable to the voters. To be sure, on the surface, the government of Noda Yoshihiko seems to have relinquished whatever gains not only his party made but much of what the LDP's Koizumi Jun'ichiro wrenched from out of the hands of the bureaucrats. For this reason, an unleashed Ozawa immediately challenging the legitimacy of the current leadership group is not only inevitable but salutatory.

It would be a grave mistake, however, for Ozawa to take on the leadership of DPJ. He must meet with Noda, one-to-one, and see what Noda's real goals and strategies are.

I do not refer to Noda as The Impenetrable One out of laziness. Noda is almost perversely parsimonious with his actual thinking on any given issue, no matter how beautifully he may talk about every issue. You can read Noda's words in the newspaper or on the Web, or hearing speaking him out loud on television or in person. However, as to what he thinks, one draws a blank. He may have a silver tongue but he does not appear to be speaking his mind.

Does Ozawa have the humility to go to the Kantei for a meeting of minds? The outlook is admittedly not promising.

Note - this post has been edited for greater clarity and precision.


Steve McClure said...

It is true that at the time Ozawa was not under the gun of the Supreme Court, which was not to deliver its ruling for another year, long after HATOYAMA had been toppled from power over the Futenma climb-down and the revolt of the middle-ranking lifers of the DPJ.

MTC said...

Steve McClure -

Hatoyama was the prime minister. We can disagree on who was in power.