There is some debate about the election. Should the party even bother with an election (see this article in Liberal Time), or should it just reaffirm Ozawa Ichiro as party president to minimize the risk of election-related instability? Should it wait until September, when the extraordinary session of the Diet is likely to have already begun, or should it hold an election in August, just before or at the very beginning of the session?
On the former, there should be no debate. While the LDP hopes that the DPJ will hold an election and that it will be fierce, pitting Mr. Maehara and his followers against Mr. Ozawa, that is no reason not to hold one. On the other hand, if the DPJ doesn’t hold a vote, the LDP will complain about the DPJ’s being antidemocratic. So the DPJ should ignore the LDP, ignore the media, and hold an election. If Mr. Ozawa’s position in the party is so strong that he can be reaffirmed without a vote, then he should have no problem winning a vote. Yes, having a proper leadship campaign will give Mr. Maehara or a surrogate an opportunity to air their grievances against Mr. Ozawa’s leadership (something that Mr. Maehara is obviously already doing). The party is better off letting him challenge Mr. Ozawa in a formal setting than continue to undermine the party in the media and to add “dictatorial control” to his list of grievances about Mr. Ozawa’s leadership of the party. A formal election could be cathartic, and as a result strengthen Mr. Ozawa’s legitimacy and power at the head of the party.
As for the latter question, there is little reason to wait until September to hold the election. Tahara Soichiro argues in Liberal Time that “until the DPJ leadership election, nothing will improve in Nagata-cho.” I think Tahara overstates internal opposition to Mr. Ozawa — large sections of the party may be uncomfortable with Mr. Ozawa, but I don’t think a majority of the party “always opposes” him — but his general point is right. As long as Mr. Ozawa is distracted by sniping from his internal opponents, he will be less able to pressure the government. An election won’t end internal opposition to his leadership by any means, but it will delegitimize it somewhat, as he will have a new mandate to lead.
There is no consensus on the timing of the election, however. Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general, has nixed proposals to move it forward; Koshiishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ caucus in the upper house and an advocate of reelecting Mr. Ozawa without a vote, would prefer to hold an election before the new Diet session, as soon as the party finishes its survey of party members and supporters eligible to vote in a leadership election (now scheduled for completion in early August). No word on where Mr. Ozawa himself stands on the issue.
He should push for an early election, giving his critics their moment in the spotlight , disposing of them, and getting back to the business of unseating the LDP before the Diet reopens in late August.