The DPJ’s way forward should not include Hiranuma

Convinced that a major electoral breakthrough is at hand following Hiraoka Hideo’s impressive victory in Yamaguchi-2 Sunday, the DPJ leadership (a.ka., Ozawa Ichiro) has decided that it will continue to try to force the government to dissolve the HR and call a general election.

To that end, Mr. Ozawa indicated yesterday that the DPJ will push for an HC censure motion if and when the government passes the road construction plan in the HR a second time, expected after 12 May.

It has never been likely that a DPJ-backed HC censure motion would push the government to call an election — or else it would have passed one by now. With the government reeling from its defeat Sunday and Mr. Fukuda’s future bleak, it is even less likely that an HC censure motion will trigger a general election. There may yet be a general election this year, but Sunday ensured that it won’t be held under Mr. Fukuda’s watch. A censure motion at this point will be a powerless stunt, one more blow to Mr. Fukuda’s shambolic government, and a tiny one at that. I don’t think it will hurt the DPJ, but it won’t change the situation either. As Yamaguchi Jiro argues, the non-binding censure motion is a “wooden sword:” it won’t topple the government, but it can damage Mr. Fukuda’s reputation at home and abroad. So if the DPJ is determined to pass a censure motion, it should do it and then move on, without over-dramatizing the measure. It will mean exactly what it says it is; the DPJ is disappointed with the government’s indifference to public opinion and is registering its disapproval officially. That’s all.

That said, Mr. Ozawa is clearly feeling more confident and more powerful within the party following Sunday’s victory. Sankei reports that he was all smiles at yesterday’s press conference, for good reason, because the Yamaguchi-2 by-election probably stifled the gathering effort by DPJ reformists to find a serious candidate to run against Mr. Ozawa in the party’s September leadership election. But it is at moments like this that the DPJ has to be especially cautious, given Mr. Ozawa’s tendency to get carried away in his efforts to exploit what like to be prime opportunities.

It is worth noting that Mr. Ozawa dined with none other than Hiranuma Takeo on Monday evening, where they exchanged views about the political situation and prompted speculation that Mr. Hiranuma’s still non-existent “Hiranuma New Party” and the DPJ could cooperate. Both agreed that the LDP is “useless.” The DPJ will already cooperate with Mr. Hiranuma in one sense, in that the party will not be fielding a candidate in the Okayama-3 district he represents. I hope that Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ don’t go any further in their cooperation with Mr. Hiranuma. I don’t see how the DPJ can gain from closer association with the arch-conservative Hiranuma (although the DPJ would obviously benefit if Mr. Hiranuma were to form a party and pry away his LDP friends in Nakagawa Shoichi’s study group).

As I argued yesterday, the DPJ needs to worry less about how to hasten a general election and more about how to hone its image as the reformist party that is more sensitive to the public’s needs than the LDP. The LDP is tearing itself apart with the DPJ doing little more than using its control of the HC to stymie the government’s agenda. It should keep doing that — and not look for apparent shortcuts to a general election that could tarnish the DPJ’s image.

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