Ozawa, on top again

Ozawa Ichiro has granted an interview to Asahi (one of the papers he didn’t single out for criticism in his “parting” remarks) in which he reviews the circumstances surrounding the meetings with Prime Minister Fukuda that resulted in his decision to resign, his plans for a general election campaign, and the DPJ’s policy goals.

With a confidence that is perhaps the result of being firmly in control of his party, Mr. Ozawa is defiant and seemingly free of doubts surrounding his position and that of his party.

In recounting his discussion with Mr. Fukuda, he denied that they discussed the timing of a snap election or the distribution of cabinet posts in an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. But he did, as Amaki Naoto notes, “even now assert with amazing self-confidence and arrogance that the grand coalition plan was right,” suggesting that the plan would have given the DPJ an opportunity to pass its cherished policy goals, enhancing its position for an election and helping DPJ members “know power.” He also snapped at opponents within the DPJ. When asked about rumors that he was considering leaving the party with enough members to throw the Upper House back to the government, he said, “Isn’t it stupid? It’s awful that there is a group of people within the party who say such foolish things.”

As for his party’s strategy, he insists that winning the next election comes first — indeed, winning elections is the only thing that matters. He suggested, regarding the party’s plan to aim merely to become the Lower House’s largest party, that the DPJ is open to a coalition with all parties — Communists included — except the LDP. He demurred when asked about conditions that could lead to a snap election, and declined to say whether the DPJ would push for an Upper House censure motion in the event of the government’s passing its anti-terror law over an Upper House veto.

Meanwhile, as far as policy goes, I detect a desire on Mr. Ozawa’s part to shift the discussion away from foreign policy and the Afghanistan mission and back to the “lifestyle” issues that helped the DPJ win in July, the issues about which the Japanese people actually care. Indeed, asked about ISAF participation, he said, “Since we promised participation in UN activities to the people in our manifesto, from now on we will not speak of a debate. Why this simple debate is not understood — it’s a mystery to me and can’t be helped.” Finally, he both dismissed the idea of a compromise with the LDP on a permanent law on JSDF dispatch and suggested that a DPJ government would prepare to revise the constitution to make provisions for JSDF dispatch.

In short, as is widely assumed, a DPJ government, especially one led by Mr. Ozawa, would differ very little from LDP rule. Beyond the policy questions, of course, there could be value to a DPJ victory in producing alternation of ruling parties, but then, if the DPJ doesn’t try to take a majority of its own, a DPJ victory would just result in a sloppy reenactment of 1993 (especially if the JCP were to join a coalition government).

For my part, I think Mr. Ozawa comes across as arrogant in this interview, and, as I suspected, he seems to be in more control of the DPJ than ever before.

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