Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On the Timing of Ozawa's Departure

Ozawa Ichirō's announcement of his intention to resign as party leader of the Democratic Party of Japan gave a huge jolt on Monday to a country still somewhat in a stupor from what seemed an eternal Golden Week holiday.

It was a hell of a way to begin the late spring political season.

Ozawa had to go, everybody knew that. Just when was the question. A not inconsiderable band of folks feel his long, drawn-out goodbye has damaged the DPJ's clean image beyond salvation, reducing to nil chances the DPJ may have had of toppling the ruling coalition in the next House of Representatives election.


By sticking around well past his expiration date, Ozawa did his party a huge favor: he focused all opprobrium upon himself. "As long as Ozawa is there, the DPJ cannot win," has a great flip side, namely, "now that Ozawa is gone, there is really no reason to vote for the ruling coalition."

Furthermore, by hanging on to the party presidency of the DPJ into May, Ozawa has fouled up the ruling coalition's legislative and electoral plans. Prime Minister Asō Tarō and his Liberal Democratic Party compadres hoped beyond hope that they would be conducting their final electoral push against a money scandal-tarnished DPJ, a hot, fiscally irresponsible supplementary budget in their hand. They delayed calling an election, delirious as the PM's and the LDP's popularity numbers crept up and the worsening macroeconomic numbers made the passage of the supplementary budget seem ever more imperative. With the only reason to not vote for the DPJ now safely out of the way, the LDP and New Komeitō leaders find themselves in a quandary over the sequencing of the supplementary budget bill's passage, the local elections in Tokyo and the constitutionally-mandated national House of Representatives election. There is simply no way of taking advantage of the currently higher poll numbers for the PM and the LDP; pass the supplementary budget; and give the New Komeitō the time it needs to lead its Tokyo election the way it likes to, which is to say without distractions.

A squeeze play is on...and it is not in the contest to choose a successor to Ozawa.

1 comment:

Jan Moren said...

I've had one thought about this. To confirm it I would frankly need rather better Japanese skills than I possess, however:

What would have happened had Aso called an election after Ozawa stated his intention to resign, but before a new DPJ leader was actually chosen?

I vaguely seem to remember that Japanese election law would stipulate that the member roll of a party at the moment the election is called that has to be used by the party. That would have meant a campaign with Ozawa at the helm of the DPJ as a lame duck, with no political power or credibility left, but unable to actually leave the rains to a successor for the election.

By timing the announcement to a point where Aso can't quickly call an election without damaging himself that hypothetical (and perhaps contrafactual) scenario is avoided.