It seems that in addition to Hatoyama’s resigning from the premiership, Ozawa Ichirō will resign as secretary-general of the DPJ.
If Ozawa does resign — together with his lieutenants in various leadership positions within the DPJ with him — and actually manages to retire from politics and not try to run the party from the shadows, the twin resignations of Hatoyama and Ozawa may actually provide the DPJ with an opportunity to reclaim the hope that accompanied the party’s victory last year.
That Hatoyama and Ozawa were at the head of the new regime when the DPJ took power was a bit strange. Of course they were among the party’s most senior and experienced politicians. There really was no alternative, and no other candidate — aside from Okada — was capable of challenging last year’s passing of the torch from Ozawa and Hatoyama (thanks to Maehara Seiji’s disastrous tenure as party leader). But these two hereditary politicians whose careers began in the LDP wound up at the head of a parliamentary majority composed largely of newcomers to politics, very few of whom had relatives in politics. The DPJ’s promise was less in its policy program, aside from its institutional reforms, than in the new blood it injected into the Japanese political system. But between their corruption scandals and the fact that no one could tell just what Ozawa’s role was in policymaking, the DPJ diarchy managed to squander its new majority.
More than Hatoyama’s, Ozawa’s departure provides the DPJ with a chance to reclaim some of the energy. It will enable a party leadership to abandon Ozawa’s courtship of fading interest groups and focus once again on speaking to floating voters. Inevitably the next secretary-general will not overshadow the prime minister, meaning that the secretary-general might actually help the prime minister sell his policies to the public while corralling the party’s backbenchers.
At the same time, however, the new secretary-general will not inspire the same fear in the party’s backbenchers. The result could be more give and take between the leadership and the rank-and-file — or it could be complete chaos.
Ultimately it will depend on the prime minister, whether Kan, Okada, or someone else entirely. With decisive leadership at the top the policymaking system the DPJ tried to put in place when it took power might work better than it did under Hatoyama.