Naturally Ozawa Ichiro’s top aide had to get himself arrested the day I wrote 1,000 words on what kind of leader Ozawa would be as a prime minister.
Jun Okumura has the details here.
In brief, Ozawa’s aide has been accused of receiving funds for one of Ozawa’s political support groups from Nishimatsu Construction, a construction company (not surprisingly) with some history of dubious contributions to politicians.
It is hard to see how Ozawa will recover from this: I can only imagine the glee with which Aso Taro said “no comment” to reporters this evening.
Sankei has already broken out the pictures of Kanemaru Shin, which is precisely why this is so devastating.
Ozawa’s challenge since becoming DPJ president has been to convince voters (and members of his own party) that he has left his past as Tanaka Kakuei’s “son” behind, that he means what he says about reform. It is questionable how much success he has had. I’ve heard DPJ members talk of urban voters viewing Ozawa with some distrust, and, after all, would rural voters — among whom Ozawa has campaigned heavily — be all that dismayed by his past association with Tanaka? Nevertheless, whatever progress Ozawa has made in changing his image will probably be undone in one fell swoop. It is hard to run as an agent of change when you’re taking shady money from that most corrupt of industries, the construction industry. Even if Ozawa had nothing to do with this deal, the damage has been done. The past, it seems, has caught up with Ozawa.
While it is far too early to identify the political consequences of the arrest, the question now is whether Ozawa leaves the leadership without a fight and designates a successor, or whether the DPJ falls into civil war. For all we know this incident could lead to the DPJ’s reformists throwing up their hands and quitting the party. For my part, I suspect that Ozawa will be nudged out the door and given some advisory position, with the leadership passing to Okada Katsuya, who has been working hard to burnish his image and has the virtue of not being strongly disliked by the bulk of the party. The DPJ can presumably only save itself by jettisoning Ozawa, and quickly.
This seems to be a fitting end to the age of Ozawa, with Ozawa a Moses-like figure who has brought an opposition party within sight of the promised land only to be denied entry for past transgressions (past in the nature of the act, not in the timing).
And who ever said that Japanese politics is boring?