Mr. Maehara’s rebellion

On Monday, Suga Yoshihide, the deputy head of the LDP’s election strategy committee, praised Maehara Seiji, deputy head of the DPJ for his comments about the DPJ’s ability to govern and incoherent policy agenda in a speech in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. Mr. Suga said: “He spoke courageously. If someone like Maehara-san becomes leader, it will become a party that can be trusted and Japan will have a true two large-party system.”

What better way to foment further turmoil by praising Mr. Maehara for his courage? I’ve noted previously that with the LDP in turmoil and the prime minister’s popularity abysmal (but recovering slightly), the government and the LDP have pinned their hopes for a surprisingly strong showing in the next election on a divided DPJ that can be portrayed as incapable of governing.

If Mr. Maehara has any political sense, he would stop his rebellion now, unless, of course, he wants to give comfort to the LDP and deepen the impression that the DPJ is incapable of wielding power. The DPJ, it seems, is powerless to stop the wayward Mr. Maehara. The senior leadership appears willing to tolerate Mr. Maehara’s public trashing of the party even as he serves as one of seven DPJ vice presidents. Indeed, it appears that there is little the party can do to discipline any dissenter, whether Mr. Maehara or the upper house members who voted against the party on road construction earlier this session. If Mr. Maehara is to be restrained, he will have to do it himself — or his peers, the DPJ’s other wakate members, will have to lean on him.

Perhaps they can call attention to the behavior of his fellow young turk/former party leader, Okada Katsuya. Mr. Okada, who took the blow for the party in the 2005 election, is said to want to return to the leadership, but in contrast to Mr. Maehara, he has refrained from public criticism of Mr. Ozawa’s leadership. A telling sign is the title of Mr. Okada’s new (and first) book, Seiken Kotai (Regime Change). While he offers a “reform menu” for a DPJ government, including proposals for administrative reform, social security reform, fiscal reform, and regional decentralization, the title indicates that whatever his policy disagreements with the DPJ’s current leadership, he remains committed to the party’s goal of “regime change.” He still believes that a DPJ-led government, whatever its flaws, would be better than a continuation of LDP rule (which, as we’ve learned this Diet session, means the continuation of zoku rule). It remains to be seen whether Mr. Maehara believes the same.

Indeed, Mainchi, in reporting on Mr. Okada’s new book, contrasts Mr. Okada and Mr. Maehara, noting that Mr. Maehara desperately wants a complete debate on the party’s policies and has indicated that he will stand in the September election if no one else does, while Mr. Okada remains committed to regime change first and has said nothing about running in September. I don’t disagree with Mr. Maehara’s belief that Mr. Ozawa should be reelected uncontested, but there are ways to do that without completely undermining the party.

Incidentally, continuing the discussion in this post, it bears mentioning that the clash between idealism and realism is not just within the party — it is within Mr. Ozawa himself, as I argued here. Mr. Ozawa’s DPJ is politically schizophrenic in part because Mr. Ozawa is politically schizophrenic.

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