Ozawa in charge

Ozawa Ichiro addressed a conference of the DPJ’s Upper and Lower House members on Wednesday, where he spoke at length about the crisis that saw him resign from the leadership of the party only to reverse his decision days later.

He was, of course, exceedingly apologetic in his remarks, and, I think, exceedingly forthright in explaining his reasoning for entertaining the notion of a grand coalition with the LDP. He recognizes the DPJ’s predicament — he knows that winning the Upper House may not have been the best thing for the party after all. “In the twisted Diet in which the LDP has overwhelming numbers in the House of Representatives, how do we implement policies promised in the manifesto that place the life of the people first?” (The press conference following his remarks can be read in three parts here, here, and here.)

This problem remains for both the LDP and the DPJ; Mr. Ozawa may stay away from any formal arrangement, but the DPJ will still have to find a way to cooperate — quietly — with the LDP if it wants to see its bills pass both houses. This will undoubtedly entail some concessions from the DPJ. It is unclear to me why the Japanese political system, in which the LDP has for decades paid heed to the views of opposition parties through the Kokutai system, cannot handle a slightly more involved form of this cooperation between the LDP and the DPJ to ensure smooth management of parliamentary affairs. Neither side will get everything that they want, but then Mr. Fukuda is not Mr. Abe: unlike his predecessor, Mr. Fukuda does not necessarily believe that policy is everything. Procedure counts too.

The DPJ is to blame for having failed to change its approach the moment that Mr. Fukuda took over for Mr. Abe, with the party’s intransigence effectively driving Mr. Ozawa into Mr. Fukuda’s arms as a way out of the predicament — producing the latest drama in Japanese politics, and effectively exposing the party’s frailty to the world.

Maybe Mr. Ozawa’s wielding greater power over the party will be a good thing for the DPJ. Perhaps I have underestimated his ability to manage the delicate task of being an opposition party responsible for a whole house of the Diet. But he better get to work forging a cooperative Diet strategy that his party can support.

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