Two years of Ozawa’s leadership

Today is the second anniversary of Ozawa Ichiro’s election as head of the DPJ.

Mr. Ozawa marked the occasion with appearances on several Sunday political talk shows, on which he assessed the political situation and issued his latest call for a hasty general election. He said that an election should be held in advance of the July G8 summit, as the people’s voice must be heard.

Is Mr. Ozawa certain that he’ll like what the people have to say?

Yamamoto Ichita, in his assessment of Mr. Ozawa’s television appearances, suggests that the DPJ head in misreading public sentiment, especially on the temporary tax issue. He argues that if the government reinstitutes the temporary tax, “it will invite ‘public opposition’ in the short term. This is unavoidable.” In short, the public’s anger will be real, but it will be short-lived, certainly nothing that will imperil the Fukuda government.

I share Mr. Yamamoto’s doubts about the ineffectiveness of Mr. Ozawa’s strategy. I find that the DPJ is more effective the less it demands a rapid general election. There is very little the DPJ can do to make the LDP fold and call an election before September 2009. What it can do is find wedge issues that enable it to exploit divisions within the LDP and watch as the LDP tears itself to pieces in the months leading up to a general election. Waiting for the LDP to implode is the last thing that Mr. Ozawa wants to do — but part of his fervor for regime change and reform is an impatience that leads him to abandon strategies before they’ve reached fruition.

Rather than demanding a hasty election, the DPJ must work harder to package itself as the reform party, to embed its opposition to the temporary tax and special fund in a general narrative that shows why LDP rule has been so disastrous. Saying that Japan needs regime change is not enough: giving the duration of the LDP’s hold on power, the reasons for regime change are clearly not self-evident to Japanese voters. This concern underlies the opposition of the DPJ’s young reformists to Mr. Ozawa’s leadership, who they feel is a poor messenger and a potential drag in urban and suburban districts that should otherwise be easy pickings for the DPJ running against a party led by a prime minister with favorable ratings in the low 20s and unfavorable ratings in the 60s.

Mr. Ozawa, the election will come when it comes. In the meantime, focus on fundamentals and ensure that your candidates are ready to contest a general election.

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