The announcement yesterday of the departure of former State Minister for Reconstruction Hirano Tatsuo from the Democratic Party of Japan was the top story of last night's evening news. The departure was not a surprise: Hirano had been discussing leaving the party for quite some time(Link). It just took him until yesterday to sit down in front of the cameras and spit out his intentions.
A former minister and leading light of the mid-career cohort (Link) is forced to abandon the DPJ four months before he faces reelection: the DPJ is coming apart at the seams – there is a narrative combo no political writer will be punished for reporting.
It is unclear, however, just how Hirano has improved his position by declaring himself an independent. He has, of course, his own base of support within Iwate Prefecture. However, at his press conference he expressed the hope that supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party will also vote for him (Link – J video). Given that the LDP has already got a candidate lined up for the Iwate seat (Link - J), Hirano's hope seems a rather vain one.
Hirano also cannot expect much help from his former mentor, the "king" of Iwate the LDP so very much wants to topple, Ozawa Ichiro – not that Hirano is seeking any connection with the man who set him up in national office. When asked about his former protégé's plan to leave the DPJ, Ozawa, who believes he still has cards to play with the DPJ, stuck in the knife and twisted:
"Since [Hirano] was a DPJ government minister until the end of last year, how likely are the citizens to accept this? Won't [Hirano's decision] be kind of hard for the voters to understand?"
(Link – J)
Ozawa has a gigantic blindspot as to his own unpopularity outside of Iwate. As to his read of the political climate inside his home prefecture, his views are hard to disrespect.
As for Hirano's own justifications of his decision, they sounded...confused. Whilst making a pitch for LDP support, he did not disavow a commitment to toppling the LDP from power. When asked how being an independent was better than being a member of the DPJ, Hirano argued that as an independent he could better push forward the post-tsunaumi reconstruction effort in his home prefecture – a rather interesting theory on the amount of leverage independents have in the Diet.
To the cynical listener (and one should not underestimate the cynicism of the voters), Hirano's reason for running for reelection as an independent boiled down to "I Deserve More."
We will have to see how the good people of Iwate respond to this assertion.
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