The short race to pick Ozawa’s replacement

The campaign to replace Ozawa Ichiro as DPJ president quickly turned into a race between Okada Katsuya and Hatoyama Yukio, who have until Sunday to convince the DPJ’s upper and lower house members of their merits to serve as the face of the party in the forthcoming general election.

Uesugi Takashi, writing in Shukan Daiyamondo, argues that the DPJ has missed an opportunity to reverse the political momentum by scheduling its election for Sunday. A longer campaign would have commanded media attention and given the candidates to present the DPJ’s message undiluted to the public. (I would add that a longer campaign would have given the party to have the party’s local chapters vote too, as would have happened in a normal election, thus ensuring that the inner party and the outer party are in sync going into the campaign.)

But on the other hand, the DPJ will enjoy a bump simply by having cast off Ozawa and elected someone new. It may be best that the party will choose a new leader quickly and set back to work.

Who has the upper hand? Jun Okamura argues that the race is wide open. Like in recent LDP presidential elections, it is not sufficient to assume that if a DPJ faction head supports a candidate, the faction’s members will follow the leader. Press coverage suggests that the race is “pro-Ozawa versus anti-Ozawa,” with the party’s anti-mainstream flocking to Okada. But if that is the case, Okada will lose. The dedicated anti-Ozawa groups — most notably the Maehara and Noda groups — are a minority of the party. There is a reason why they are not putting up their own candidate (and why, despite talk of challenging Ozawa last year, no one stood against him).

It is not clear to me how or why the DPJ should distance itself from Ozawa. Obviously the DPJ wants to wash away the taint of Ozawa’s scandal — but electing a new leader will largely take care of that problem. Would the public really hold Hatoyama accountable for corruption in Ozawa’s political organization?

But what of Ozawa’s impact on the DPJ’s policies and party governance? Should the DPJ scrap his changes? Despite his reputation as uncooperative and dictatorial, Ozawa was able to draw upon support from across his party. He inspired loathing from some, but he also included rivals in the DPJ’s Next Cabinet and in other party leadership positions. The final word may have rested with Ozawa, but considering the frequent complaint that Japan does not have enough top-down leadership, why should that be a negative? On policy terms, Yamaguchi Jiro praises Ozawa for promulgating the “Seikatsu dai-ichi” line that was the party’s slogan in 2007, which he believes distinguished the DPJ from the LDP’s neo-liberals. Indeed, evidence of the success of this approach can be found in the LDP’s about-face since the 2007 election: both Fukuda Yasuo and Aso Taro have stressed the importance of listening to the voice of the people and providing for public welfare. Should the DPJ scrap this approach? Should the DPJ scrap Ozawa’s efforts to make the DPJ a party capable of challenging the LDP in rural districts? Ozawa’s legacy as DPJ president should not be reduced to Nishimatsu.

I doubt either candidate will break with the Ozawa system. This campaign is wholly about image: personality, youth, support of the party rank-and-file, and the ability to reach out to independents. It will not be about policy.

For my part, I do wish a third candidate, preferably one who has not already led the DPJ into a general election, would enter the race. I would prefer someone like Nagatsuma Akira, who at forty-eight is younger than both candidates and as a result of his role in exposing the pensions scandal in 2007 has made a name for himself as a crusader against official malfeasance. He is only a third-term member, but on the other hand, maybe the DPJ would be better off with a leader who is comparatively new to Nagata-cho. Unfortunately the short DPJ race rules out the possibility of a dark horse challenger to Hatoyama and Okada.

But for all the shortcomings of the two contenders, I think that after weeks of talking about Ozawa, the discussion will turn once again to Aso, the LDP, and the state of the Japanese economy.

One thought on “The short race to pick Ozawa’s replacement

  1. AC

    \”Would the public really hold Hatoyama accountable for corruption in Ozawa\’s political organization?\”Okada, perhaps not, but Hatoyama, quite possibly, as the latter was Ozawa\’s chief defender and led the offensive against the prosecutors.The DPJ is in serious trouble with either of these retreads, though.

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