With Ozawa, there’s no easy option

Ozawa Ichiro has escaped indictment by the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office again. Once again, his former secretaries were not quite so lucky, with three, including sitting Diet member Ishikawa Tomohiro, being indicted for political funds violations.

Michael Cucek rightly points to the gross misconduct of the PPO in its Ahab-like pursuit of Ozawa — and perhaps the more egregious campaign by the media to paint Ozawa as the conniving, monstrous puppet master of the Hatoyama government.

But I cannot treat Ozawa’s escape from prosecution as a victory for the prime minister and the DPJ, and cannot but wonder whether the DPJ wouldn’t be better off without its secretary-general.

If anything, the indictment of three of his former aides even as Ozawa survives with a vote of confidence from the prime minister will continue to be a drag on the government. As in the days when Ozawa was in charge and Hatoyama his secretary-general, Hatoyama sounds like Ozawa’s chief apologist, explaining Ozawa’s behavior to a skeptical public. Except, of course, Hatoyama is now the prime minister of Japan. Ozawa’s presence at the head of the DPJ would be less of a problem for the Hatoyama cabinet if it had been able to dominate the media and dictate the narrative being told about the government. But the Hatoyama government has been so ineffectual in its public relations — not entirely its fault seeing as how certain publications are serving as the LDP’s partners in opposition — that everything said or done by the government in relation to Ozawa contributes to the media’s narrative of a government under Ozawa’s thumb. Instead of reporting on the remarkable changes the Hatoyama government has made to the policymaking process, the media has been able to fixate on the superficial resemblance between the current government and the LDP in its heyday (which Ozawa of course participated in). As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced that DPJ government with Ozawa wielding outsized influence is worse than LDP government in which an army of backbenchers wielded influence in combination with the bureaucracy that was able to undermine all but the most determined prime ministers — and even determined prime ministers like Koizumi Junichiro did not win every battle with the backbenchers.

What should the Hatoyama government, Ozawa, and the DPJ do going forward? As Hokkaido University’s Yamaguchi Jiro — a DPJ sympathizer — notes, the fate of political change and with it the Japanese people’s hope for their democracy hang in the balance. He recommends that Ozawa let the trial proceed and let the PPO’s evidence (or lack thereof) speak for itself. At the same time, he suggests that Ozawa forthrightly answer every question surrounding doubts about his political funds in the court of public opinion. I wonder whether Ozawa is capable of this. I know that Hatoyama and other DPJ leaders are not capable of making Ozawa do it. At the very least, Ozawa has to restrain himself and at least appear as if he is the prime minister’s subordinate, not his equal (or superior).

Meanwhile, the Hatoyama government must fundamentally reconsider how it presents itself to the public via the media. The time of letting the facts speak for themselves has passed, because the facts about the government do not speak for themselves. The government needs begin aggressively making its case. Whether that will entail a new chief cabinet secretary, a media strategy team attached to the prime minister’s office, or some other scheme will depend on the government, but the current arrangement is simply not working. And the prime minister needs to start showing some ability to lead, or step down.

No matter how skilled a campaigner he is, no matter how zealous a reformer he is, Ozawa’s baggage imperils the government — and more than that, it jeopardizes Japan’s political future and provides further impetus to cynicism among the Japanese people. There is no easy answer to the Hatoyama government’s dilemma. Fire Ozawa, and it loses a skilled campaigner trusted among party supporters in the provinces. Retain Ozawa, and the prime minister continues to look weak and the media continues to feast upon the Ozawa scandal.

Ultimately, I fear that Hatoyama is simply incapable of solving this dilemma and saving his government.

7 thoughts on “With Ozawa, there’s no easy option

  1. Anonymous

    You can say that Ozawa issue is public-relation failure. But you can also say it is a failure of media and legal system.Kisha Club media has been functioning as an echo chamber of CHICKEN TOKUSOUBU. The fact that the content of interviews by CHIKEN is on the media indicates either CHIKEN is illegally leaking information to the media or the media are making things up. Probably both. At this point, CHIKEN, not LDP, is the biggest opposition party, and the media is the public relation department of CHIKEN.The problem of CHIKEN is complete lack of oversight. Under the long LDP regimes, CHIKEN acquired de facto independence from the cabinet. If you read Ozawa's 1993 Nippon Kaizou Keikaku, it is true that Ozawa is the real threat to status quo: the absolute prosecutorial power of CHIKEN and Justice Department beaurocrats. There is another reason for the cause of the prosecutorial power. The guilty rate of Japanese court is 99.9 %, making criminal courts rubber stamp machine. In theory, CHIKEN is merely a subdivision of Justice Department, which should be under control of DPJ cabinet by constitution, but in reality, it is not.There are several things DPJ can do. One, they have to enact a law so that the cabinet can appoint prosecutors. There must be another division that checks and controls prosecuters, especially the use of illegal funds. Currently DPJ is trying to make a blanket law to enable political appointees. Two, abolish Kisha Club to break the monopoly of authenticity by the Kisha Club media. In other words, out of control media is Hatoyama's own making, because he promised the abolishment and broke the promise. Three, enact a law to disclose records of all interviews by the police and all exculpatory evidence to the defense. This has been proposed for years and has been blocked by LDP.Four, DPJ should disclose the information regarding secret funds transfered from MOFA to the cabinet during LDP era, and criminally charge the responsible parties. Okada is insisting that it is not illegal, but it is, and that is why LDP regimes were denying it.


  2. PaxAmericana

    You could add a post called, \”With the Media, there's no easy option\”.One could argue that the media and the economy are much more intractable problems than Mr. Ozawa. If the DPJ encourages debate, it's called being inconsistent by the media.


  3. The west judges Japanese head of state by comparing him to a western head of state, and sees nothing but lack of all that is seen in a western head of state. But, surely this very western notion of what a head of state “ought” to be is part of the cultural divide, east and west. As the “japanese” engage the world more and more, the japanese are attempting to transform themselves to be more world centric, but the japanese are finding that thisisn’t all good for them; to transform over night what took centuries to create.This is where the west needs to focus in, is it assumed that its the western way or no way? Is it assumed that the difference of east vs. west naturally means that the east is wrong? In order for the west to understand the east means the east must conform to the west.whether or not the west intends or not, this is how the message is heard by an eastern ear. Cowboys and indians all over again.Is it any wonder the existence of this constant undertow of misunderstanding and misunderstanding?


  4. Delta

    Indeed, the Faustian bargain the DPJ struck with Ozawa Ichiro is coming back to haunt it.As for the Special Investigative Department (_Tokusobu_ or SID), it has been accused in some weeklies of acting like the junior officers or _seinen shoko_ [who paralysed the polity during WW II].When Ishikawa Tomohiro et al. were arrested, some of his fellow first-year MPs claimed this was an attack by unelected bureaucrats on elected representatives of the people.By that logic, however, would the SID's delving into Lockheed, Recruit, Sagawa Kyubin and other scandals not also have been attacks on those chosen by Japan's sovereigns, the citizens, to represent them?As for some media acting as \”the LDP's partners in opposition\”, where are the articles gushing about Mr. Tanigaki's leadership? From what I see on the small screen and read at the supermarket, the media just ignore him, except when he has a bicyle crash or takes an eternity persuading Katayama Toranosuke to observe the age limit for PR candidates. It appears Tokyo media are not alone in ignoring him:http://shisaku.blogspot.com/2009/10/paris-vaut-bien-une-messe-ldp-style.htmlSpeaking of _tachiyomi_, last week I saw a one-page piece in _Josei Sebun_ of all magazines about the Ozawa scandal. It centred on Ozawa Kazuko, who the brief text said was the eldest daughter of a Niigata construction company chairman, with the match made by the late PM Tanaka Kakuei, going on to give some details covered in more detail in other _zasshi_.Here I see that the SID's talking about hearing from her about bank accounts in family members' names was also a way of getting articles about her printed, thus submitting character evidence against her husband Ichiro to the court of public opinion. This the SID presumably needs to do, this being the media age.Even so, those criticising the SID's conduct do IMO need to find a more convincing case than this one for their arguments. The voters would IMO be sophisticated enough to differentiate between DPJ candidates of the Ozawa-Koshiishi type and those of the Maehara-Edano type. Then there is Everyone's Party of course.Is MTC reading this perhaps?


  5. Delta

    Also, you have to feel for Ishikawa Tomihiro. Having for years served as Ozawa Ichiro's aide and then defeated Nakagawa Shoichi last August, he is now being left for dead — politically speaking :-(.With more voters than ever saying they do not support any particular party, rumours of new parties, like the one I read about last week (with minister Maehara Seiji, former mayor Nakada Hiroshi of Yokohama, serving mayor Yamada Hiroshi of Suginami etc.) in the _Shukan Asahi_, can only hot up.In the same issue, I also found a defence of Ozawa Ichiro and Ishikawa Tomohiro in the form of a discussion between Suzuki Muneo (whose name stuck in my mind) and two journalists (one being Tachibana Takashi perhaps). It is an Asahi publication after all, I thought, though I did see _Hodo Station_ discussions on the _zabuton_ at Mr. Ozawa's office, on TV Asahi of course.The public is set to render judgment in July; the Happiness Realisation Party and even the LDP have now started putting up posters here and there.


  6. jangel

    I'm inclined to agree with Tobias that the DPJ whould be better off without Ozawa. If he somehow manages to do magic in the Upper House elections, the winning candidates are likely to be more Ozawa children, making the DPJ even less \”DPJ-like\” and unpalatable in the eyes of most people, and giving Ozawa even more of a grip on the party. Ditching Ozawa now would give DPJ more of a boost than anything Ozawa could rustle up, and I don't see him as irreplaceable at all.


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