DPJ secretary-general Hatoyama Yukio wasted no time in responding to Mr. Nakatani’s incendiary charge. “Since thirty percent of the people are opposed to the refueling activities,” he said, “Even in Japan thirty percent have become terrorists. It is offensive for such unreasonable things to be uttered on television. It’s no joke.”
For Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Nakatani’s remarks provided the prime minister with an opportunity to discipline his party and publicly chastize a prominent member of the LDP for absurd and indefensible comments. If he delays and prevaricates, Mr. Nakatani’s remarks will retain their efficacy as a weapon for the opposition to wield against the government as the Fukuda cabinet struggles to build up public support for continuing the refueling mission. But if Mr. Fukuda acts quickly to emphasize that Mr. Nakatani’s remarks are inexcusable, he will further distance his cabinet from Mr. Abe’s and continue to show his government’s moderate stripes and modest ambitions in the Indian Ocean.
For the DPJ, presumably Mr. Hatoyama’s comments won’t be the last we hear from the DPJ about Mr. Nakatani’s ludicrous remarks.
The timing of this gift couldn’t be better for the DPJ, which is tearing itself to pieces over the refueling mission. On the 10th, Mr. Ozawa reportedly said, “Surely if you say that it’s [JSDF participation in ISAF] is detestable, then you have no choice but to leave the party.” On the 12th, Mr. Hatoyama suggested that Mr. Ozawa’s words were excessive, and that Mr. Ozawa’s remarks were his personal opinion, not party policy, and that all that the party executive wants is for members to respect the party’s basic policies. The Yomiuri article linked to above includes the obligatory references to Mr. Ozawa’s past experience as head of the New Frontier Party, at which time he similarly divided the party by trying to enforce ideological purity.
Is the DPJ heading to a crisis? Will the “left wing” of the DPJ fall into line behind Mr. Ozawa, or will it call his bluff and continue to challenge his latest tactical shift, perhaps even bidding to force him out as party president? And should a rebellion fail, would its members leave to form their own party?
At this point, the extent of agreement within the DPJ is limited to pressing the government on allegations about the diversion of fuel to US warships participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The DPJ caucus in the Upper House will keep up the pressure this week in Upper House Budget Committee deliberations, but the real question is whether Mr. Ozawa will be able to impose his vision for a Japanese contribution to Afghanistan on his party.
And then there are Mr. Koizumi’s cryptic remarks at a gathering between the “New Wave” (the Koizumi Kids Klub — “K-K-K? That’s not good…”) and the Nikai faction, in which he suggested the likelihood of a general election this year and the interesting possibility for political realignment. Would the secession of the DPJ’s left wing and the creation of a rump DPJ with considerable overlap in policy terms with the Koizumi Kids raise the probability of a merger between the two, a threat wielded by Mr. Koizumi during his premiership?