Sunday, March 08, 2009

Where We Are

For some reason Observing Japan is suffering difficulties.

From memory, Mr. Harris put forth the proposition that a point of stasis has been reached over the arrest of Ōkubo Toshinori, Democratic Party of Japan Leader's Ozawa Ichirō's political secretary.

I would have to second that observation.

And say that Ozawa's continued headship of the Democrats is a thing of wonder.

Ozawa Ichirō this last week demonstrated an insane level of bravery, a quality for which he is not generally known. He denounced the arrest of his closest aide, refused to resign (the "dignified way out") and called the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office a political tool. The Tokyo Prosecutor's Office seemingly fired back, as all kinds of information about the investigation appeared in the Yomiuri and to a lesser extent, the Sankei and Mainichi. Among the news was the possibility that the prosecutors would call Ozawa in for questioning.

Normally, given the record and reputation of the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office - formidable even at this, the end stage of the LDP-dominated state - most politicians would have taken the hint and thrown in the towel.

To his credit, Ozawa has suddenly become a gambler - albeit with the political careers of all his colleagues. To the credit of his colleagues, they have stood by him, despite frantic efforts by the above trio of newspapers to gin up an internal revolt against Ozawa's leadership.

By Thursday, it became clear that the prosecutors had run out of ammunition. Having issued their threat to call Ozawa in for questioning, they had shot their bolt. Momentum seemed turned to a new narrative, pushed in part by The Asahi Shimbun and its sister organization, TV Asahi -- that Ozawa had a point about the investigation and arrests smelling fishy, given that mid-sized contractor Nishimatsu Construction had been generous to LDP politicians, as well. Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Nikai Toshihiro became the new celebrity, with opposition members grilling him mercilessly on his fundraising from Nishimatsu-affiliated groups. In the most biting exchange, Koike Akira of the Communist Party asked Nikai what he meant by his repeated promises to "return the money" -- since the so-called dummy fundraising organizations are no longer in existence. In a vicious coup-de-grace, he asked the hunkering minister, "When you promise to 'return the money,' do you mean 'return it to Nishimatsu Construction'?"

The threat to Ozawa is far from over, of course. We seem to be entering a fifth phase of the drama, where the common folk are called in to deliver their verdict. The Mainichi published
the first poll, showing 57% of those polled in favor of Ozawa resigning as head of the Democratic Party. Kyōdō has clocked in with a poll a showing of 61% of respondents thinking it would be best for Ozawa to resign.

Whether the citizens believe Ozawa should step down is because

a) he is dragging his party down, or

b) because the citizens do not want a crooked politician at the head of a major party

is not made clear, for some odd reason.

Key to this new phase is how the Monday morning papers and variety/news shows play these numbers. I believe the editors of the newspapers are going to take heart in the figures that are coming out. The Mainichi's editors certainly have, entitling their Sunday editorial, "As we thought, the judgment of public opinion has been severe" (Yahari yoron wa hageshikatta).

"Just as we thought," indeed.

Spicing up the mix is the report that Tanaka Makiko -- who as the daughter of Tanaka Kakuei is not entirely ignorant about how one hangs on by the fingernails in resistance against the prosecutors -- has called the polls and their findings rubbish.

This is great news for Ozawa. While Tanaka is certainly aligned with the Democrats, and wants to see them succeed, she has retained an independent voice in terms of judging phoniness when and where she sees it.

We will have to see what tomorrow morning brings...

Later - It seems that someone has solved the technical problem that had been blocking access to Observing Japan.


Jan Moren said...

There is a detail that I have no idea how important it is: unlike most similar scandals lately, the money was apparently fully booked and correctly accounted for, with receipts and all; it is the original source of the money that has been obscured or falsified at some point before handed over to the Ozawa office. And it is not at all clear that the prosecutors can actually show that anybody in the Ozawa office would have had reason to suspect the money was not legitimate.

Does it mean I think Ozawa is innocent? No - but, then, I do not think it is possible to win a national election as a representative in Japan without greasing the rails with liberal application of illegal funding. It's just a matter of who gets caught and who's smart enough not to.

Anonymous said...

You are spot on about the press. The online coverage of this mess by Yomiuri, at least, is completely over-the-top. Article after article on how dire this all is for Ozawa/DPJ. It is truly like watching Fox News.

Anonymous said...

Could you change the settings for the rss feed? I subscribe to the feed but only get the heading of your posts. This makes the feed pretty much obsolete and means a trip to your homepage is needed - nice for your stats no doubt but would help if we could read some, if not all, of the post through the rss feed.
anyway, just my thoughts. keep up the good work.