Has Ozawa overstayed his welcome?

One consequence of a general election’s being pushed back until this autumn at the earliest is that Ozawa Ichiro’s term as DPJ president may expire before he gets his chance to risk his political career in a bid to unseat the LDP.

There is a chance that his term could be extended without a party election, in light of the disruptiveness of a leadership change on the brink of an election campaign.

But it doesn’t look like Mr. Ozawa will be so fortunate. On Friday, Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general and a member of the party’s ruling troika, called for an election in September as planned.

Asahi warned darkly of a growing schism within the DPJ that could result in Mr. Ozawa’s being cast out unceremoniously by his own party, instead of the voters. This article suggests that the Ozawa-Hatoyama relationship, not particularly intimate to begin with, has become frayed following the incident at the second vote in the House of Representatives on the refueling mission, when Mr. Ozawa stormed out before voting (discussed in this post). Following the incident, Mr. Hatoyama apologized on Mr. Ozawa’s behalf and suggested that Mr. Ozawa should apologize himself. This prompted Mr. Ozawa to respond, “I don’t understand what the secretary-general said. As party leader I make the priorities for work.”

The true extent of Mr. Hatoyama’s discomfort with Mr. Ozawa — for reasons beyond the aforementioned dispute — are unknown, but it is important to remember that personality matters, and that Mr. Ozawa’s abrasive personality has consequences. Politically, it would probably be better off for the party if Mr. Ozawa stayed, if only because there is no obvious successor upon whom all DPJ factions can agree. A last-minute leadership change could very well cripple the party’s chances should a general election follow closely behind a party election. The danger, however, is that personal grudges will become mixed with political disputes (no DPJ faction is free of gripes with Mr. Ozawa’s leadership, not after the past six months), resulting inexorably in movement to unseat the party president.

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