Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Do the Seven Magistrates Not Act?

The Democratic Party of Japan is undergoing a period of rather unpleasant and unsightly stress. As reported by Tobias Harris, the party executive council is leading the junking of the concept of the party as a variegated collection of talented individuals representing many different constituencies. In its place, the council is concentrating financial and policy power making in a central directorate controlled by the party secretary-general. The directorate has has a mandate to carry out the party platform, and...everybody else just shows up to vote, when they are asked to do so. Harris views the process as the inception of a Westminster-style party structure; much of the Japanese political world, including not a few members of the DPJ, think of it as nothing more than the attempted imposition of an Ozawa Ichiro dictatorship.

This week Ubukata Yukio (House of Representatives, Chiba #6 District, 4th term) decided he had seen enough. Perhaps he was inspired by the defection of Hatoyama Kunio from the Liberal Democratic Party over the lackluster leadership of Sadakazu Tanigaki. Perhaps he was driven to distraction by the decaying support numbers for his party (Ubukata having spent, unlike Ozawa, his entire 14 years in politics inside the DPJ). Whatever his tripping point, he abandoned earlier quiet protest in favor of a frontal attack upon the party secretary-general. In media appearances, Ubukata demanded answers to some rather pointed questions, such as:

- If Ozawa cares about the party, why has he not given a public explanation of his use of his political fundraising body as a real estate invesment fund, the accounting for which has led to the indictments of three of his former aides?

- The DPJ manifesto promises to devolve power to the local areas to make government more responsive to the public's needs. Is not the centralization of power in the core executive of the party completely contrary to this philosophy?

For a party whose main raisons d'etres were 1) to give the people of Japan a chance vote someone who was not entangled in murky campaign finance and 2) to give the people a chance to vote for a party that did not buy votes through targeted budget allocations -- what has been transpired over the last few months would give any DPJ true believer a horrible sinking feeling. This is especially so given the voters have repeatedly used elections to the House of Councillors to send a message to the ruling party.

Given the decline in the party's support levels under ruling duarchy of party president and prime minister Hatoyama Yukio and party secretary-general Ozawa, the loneliness of Ubukata's rebellion seems rather remarkable. The well-regarded anti-Ozawa group known as the Seven Magistrates of the DPJ remain inert, despite many cabalistic meetings covered by a panting political press. The party is suffering; all the Seven have to various degrees made the same points that Ubukata has been making. Why do they not follow Ubukata's lead and move to liberate the party of its two troublesome leaders before the duo lead the DPJ to electoral humiliation in July?

I am not privy to the thinking of any of the Seven or their associates and allies. I would venture, however, that they have come to the conclusion that inaction represents a win-win course. If under the leadership of Hatoyama (given that he survives the May deadline he set himself for finding a solution to the Futenma relocation problem) and Ozawa the party goes down to ignominious defeat in the July elections, then the two of them are out the door. Kan Naoto, the surviving member of the Troika, takes over as prime minister and the Seven Magistrates take over the party. If somehow Ozawa pulls a rabbit out of a hat one more time and the party defends its current numbers in the House of Councillors, or improves upon them, then their having kept their heads down and done their jobs will turn out to have been pretty savvy.

To some, Ozawa at present may seem the dictator-in-the-offing. He is, however, a dictator with a sword hanging over his head. He has to the lead the party to victory in July: nothing less than victory will do. Unfortunately, his personal problems, his virtual appointment of the less-than-stellar Hatoyama as party president and his management of party affairs since the August 2009 elections have turned the electorate against him 3 to 1.

If I were one of the Seven Magistrates, I would like those odds.

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