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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 13:41 11/07/2007
November 7, 2007

Ozawa's Mistake and Its Effect on Japanese Politics

Yoshisuke IINUMA (Oriental Economist)

Ozawa's Flaw in Personality

The current turmoil surrounding the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has essentially been caused by DPJ president Ichiro Ozawa's "illness," or flaw in his political personality. He has been and still is quite self-centered and arrogant, and never satisfied with what he accomplished in promoting political reform in Japan. As a result, he often destroys what he built up with his colleagues and ruins his relationship with them. It might be said that his illness recurred this time.

In the past, Ozawa was mainly responsible for creation of the Hosokawa administration and introduction of the small electoral district system to shape the reform of Japan's political framework. But then he destroyed the Hosokawa and Hata administrations and subsequently formed and ruined the New Frontier Party in the 1990s. This time he was disillusioned with his DPJ due to an internal rift over national security issues.

Ozawa became the DPJ president after declaring that "I should change myself before changing the party," implying that he would modify his self-centered attitude. At that time, many DPJ members doubted if he could possibly change at his age. However, they accepted Ozawa's policy agenda on economic and social issues, such as his public pension reform plan to fully finance the basic pension system by public funds without raising the consumption tax. This is clearly a political tactic that Ozawa employed for election purposes, because the DPJ used to propose a 3% increase in the consumption tax under the Okada-Maehara leadership and their proposal was favorably viewed by the general public. The DPJ members also approved Ozawa's income compensation plan for individual farmers, because they regarded such a plan as necessary to close the urban-rural gap and preserve local communities for winning votes in rural districts, for which Ozawa worked so hard during the last election campaign. As a result, Ozawa was fairly satisfied with other party members' responses.

Difficulty in Forming Consensus within DPJ

Then came the problem of proposing an alternative bill for the anti-terrorism law, where consensus could not be formed within the DPJ. This is perfectly understandable in view of the present state of public opinions on Japan's national security. In fact, six years ago the DPJ itself gave de facto support to the passage of the anti-terrorism law to supply oil and water to coalition ships in the Indian Ocean as a compromise between the Constitution and the overseas dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces, and it had not been in firm opposition to the extension of the law beyond November 1, until Ozawa raised his objection.

Furthermore, Ozawa pushed harder and tried to make the DPJ accept his own stance immediately that Japan should join international PKO activities even with possible combat operations so long as they are clearly approved by UN resolutions. This itself could be a consistent position for Japan to play an appropriate role in international peace keeping operations. This could also make a way for maintaining the US-Japan security alliance for the stability in the Asia Pacific region, while building a buffer against often misguided military actions by the U.S.

However, it is a different story whether consensus for this stance could be formed within the DPJ now. In a sense, Ozawa himself raised a hurdle too high for the DPJ to clear on the Afghan anti-terrorism law and, as a result, pushed himself into an impasse. It appears that his "illness," or self-centered attitude, recurred to haunt him, as he wanted to achieve everything he wished for upon his election victory.

Although Ozawa seems to have retracted his offer to resign as president of the DPJ, the damage to him and the DPJ should be grave, because the DPJ leader himself expressed doubt about his own party's ability and message by trying to join a grand coalition with the ruling LDP, which he had been criticizing so severely and insisting to replace with his own party. His message of creating two alternating party politics was quite appealing to those who was disillusioned with the same old politics in Japan and wanted the change of power from the LDP to the DPJ. So it is quite regrettable that Ozawa who raised the public's expectations for political power change in Japan acted so destructively this time.

Possible Impact on Future Prospects

What kind of impact will the current series of events have on future prospects for Japanese politics? It is my opinion that it can be regarded as just another episode on the way to a new political party system with two major parties competing with each other, a possibility that the Japanese people are still betting on, because it is quite clear that the current episode is a result of the unique flaw in Ozawa's personality and nothing else.

Even if Ozawa had broken away from the DPJ, along with his loyal subordinates and joined a coalition with the LDP, that would have been a repetition of his failed attempts for political reform in the past, and could not have had a significant impact on today's political current.

But, there is no question that the momentum of the new trend has been weakened. Next Lower House elections, which the DPJ targeted to have in April next year by pushing Fukuda into the corner, will be delayed.

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