How long can Ozawa last?

The tide has definitively turned against Mr. Ozawa, the surest sign being that the media is carrying reports about allegations of fiscal malfeasance by his support groups, once again involving the use of campaign funds for real estate. And so Mr. Ozawa is the target of newspaper editorials demanding that he provided a detailed account of his activities. (Of course, as MTC notes, none of this may be of any consequence as malfeasance goes.)

At the same time, as argued by Jun Okumura, Mr. Fukuda continues to enjoy a honeymoon with the press, which has excused reports of mistakes in Mr. Fukuda’s own political funds reports, among other things. I guess the frequency of stories about allegations of corruption serve as an indication of “who’s hot, who’s not” — and the prevailing circumstances could easily change. But for the moment, Mr. Fukuda winds in his sails, and Mr. Ozawa appears to be flailing wildly in search of a way to regain the momentum his party had until Mr. Abe resigned.

But if the blows against Mr. Ozawa’s reputation continue, will he be able to recover his stature and continue to serve as leader of the DPJ, especially if I’m wrong and an election is in fact around the corner? There’s nothing like ongoing allegations of corruption to remind voters of Mr. Ozawa’s roots in the Tanaka-Takeshita faction, and Mr. Ozawa’s latest shift on security policy may exacerbate tensions within the DPJ that had been temporarily dispelled by Mr. Ozawa’s opposition to the extension of the anti-terror law. While Nagashima Akihisa and the DPJ’s other hawks may be rather pleased with Mr. Ozawa’s announcement of a plan to have JSDF forces participate in ISAF — Richard Katz and Peter Ennis, in a TOE alert, quote him as saying, “Japan must stand right in the center of Afghanistan, and shoulder-to-shoulder with forces from NATO and other countries in the efforts to bring stability to that country” — an article by Tsutsumi Gyou in Liberal Time suggests that Mr. Ozawa may have miscalculated with his latest step.

“Does Mr. Ozawa’s plan to participate in ISAF rest upon sufficient debate within the party beforehand? If Mr. Ozawa acted on his own authority without satisfactory debate within the party, it is a problem for the DPJ as a political party. It will amount to a faction of Ozawa dictatorship.”

Of course, Tsutsumi then goes too far and talks about how Hitler took advantage of pension politics to take power and concludes that Mr. Ozawa is “an alarming politician.” (Chalk one up for Godwin’s Law.) But the point about Mr. Ozawa’s “dictatorial” control of the DPJ stands, and it is worth asking how long his rule will continue unopposed, how long the flailing at the top of the DPJ — ably discussed by Jun Okumura in a post that came through while I wrote this post — will last before there is a concerted push for a change.

Another article in Liberal Time suggests that Okada Katsuya, the man who was at the helm just in time to see his party washed away by Mr. Koizumi in September 2005, could be the man to succeed Mr. Ozawa.

“Inside the DPJ, the voices of those saying that ‘It is not a good plan to seek a dissolution and general election in the current extraordinary session of the Diet’ are gaining strength, and ‘If Prime Minister Fukuda’s approval ratings rise, the DPJ should choose Okada Katsuya as its candidate for prime minister to lead the party in the next general election.'”

Whether the new leader is Mr. Okada or someone else, the DPJ needs to reconsider the Diet strategy pushed by Mr. Ozawa that has effectively squandered whatever the party gained from its July victory.

It is increasingly difficult to see Mr. Ozawa as the man to bring about a change of ruling party.

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