Aso Taro, commenting on the Ozawa’s resignation, claimed that he could not understand why Ozawa would resign now, two days before the debate scheduled between the party leaders. It does not seem that hard to understand to me. Why would Ozawa stand up and speak on behalf of a party that had been sending overt signals that it wanted an amicable divorce from its embattled leader? Why would the DPJ want him to speak for the party? Did Ozawa reach this conclusion himself, or did someone senior within the party have to lean on him?
Regardless of why Ozawa finally decided it was time to go, he’s gone. Not surprisingly he said very little in his press conference Monday, other than that he was stepping down for the sake of party unity and the goal of regime change.
The political consequences of his resignation are actually not particularly interesting, at least compared to his last resignation, when the DPJ was not quite ready to part with its helmsman. I anticipate a smooth return to the leadership for Okada Katsuya. He’s probably the one candidate acceptable to the party’s various factions and sects — he inspires neither love nor loathing (unlike Ozawa), but he is acceptable. At this point acceptable to all is good enough. If it is Okada, he won’t be a significant departure in policy terms from the outspoken Mr. Ozawa.
On foreign policy, he accepts Japan’s alliance-centered foreign policy but has recently suggested that the US-Japan relationship should not be overdependent on the bilateral military relationship (a view reciprocated by some in the Obama administration). Like others in his party, he wants Japan to cooperate more with its Asian neighbors.
On domestic policy, he has the inescapable air of a technocrat, not surprising considering his background as a MITI official, and as a result he does not ooze pathos when talking about the nation’s problems as some other politicians do. But he has a solid grasp of the issues, he has reformist credentials, and he has worked hard to travel the country and connect with voters like Ozawa has done. Given his background, he might even be better at coaxing the bureaucracy to accept the DPJ’s administrative reform plans. Although I’m not certain about this: lasting administrative reform may require a dramatic battle of the sort that would have likely occurred under an Ozawa premiership. Sankei cites an anonymous source at METI headquarters who wonders whether an Okada premiership would be better for the bureaucracy than an Ozawa premiership. If there is a different, it is not a matter of an agenda. The DPJ’s adminstrative reform plans predate Ozawa’s leadership of the party. What is at issue is the enthusiasm with which the new leader goes about the task.
Either way, Okada is more than adequate. If the LDP isn’t worried — and there were signs earlier in the Ozawa scandal that the government feared that Okada would replace Ozawa — it should be, if only because, as MTC notes, with Ozawa gone, so goes one of the last obstacles keeping voters from embracing the DPJ.
Would the same apply if Hatoyama Yukio, the outgoing secretary-general who has virtually served as Ozawa’s footman, is elected DPJ president? He may have adequate support from the left of the party, but I think Hatoyama would be more compromised as party leader than Okada. Hatoyama, like the prime minister, is a scion of a political family who in his time in leadership posts in the DPJ has shown himself to be better suited to supporting roles than to leadership. Hatoyama, I think, would be the poorer of the two choices in a race with Okada. And I wonder whether his time as Ozawa’s designated apologizer will tar his image.
Regardless of who winds up as party leader, the tasks facing the new leader are simple: don’t forget the countryside, remind voters how disastrous LDP rule has been just since the last election, add some details to the party’s economic plans, and prevent LDP politicians from running against the LDP. Don’t let LDP reformists get away with their bait-and-switch again.