I don’t know about you guys, but this neck-and-neck by-election in Chiba prefecture has me riveted! (Click link for background though it’s pretty obviously biased against the DPJ). Somehow new DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa has made the press almost completely forget about that sloppy screw-up Tony Blair wanna-be predecessor of his Maehara.
ZAKZAK, as usual, has some interesting coverage (good parts summarized — best digested by reading link above for background first):
Takebe Telling Meaningless Bad Jokes in Chiba by-election
Limp LDP Showing Leaves Takebe’s Leadership Spinning its Wheels
Ozawa’s DPJ is strengthening its offenses for the Apr 23 by election in Chiba’s 7th district. The new opposition president (63yo) has reportedly ordered members of his party to skip meetings in favor of supporting candidate Kazumi Oda (26yo) who has upstaged LDP contender Ken Saito (46) in the polls.
In response to Ozawa’s full court press, the LDP’s very own “honorable yes-man” Tsutomu Takebe has taken the reins to try and turn things around.
Along with the popular figures like Prime Minister Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe offering words of support, “Koizumi children” including Taizo Sugimura have joined the fray by passing out leaflets in front of train stations.
But a certain lack of vitality can’t be denied.
An LDP prefectural office official admitted, “Conflict over candidate selection between the prefectural chapter and the central party has had an effect [on the atmosphere]. The lackadaisical prefectural assembly members are also an issue. The fact that Takebe keeps telling bad jokes like ‘rock paper scissors KEN SAITO!’ (『最初はグー、斎藤ケン』 in Japanese) is killing the mood for some activists.”
OK, so it looks like the LDP is running into some problems over the divisions caused by Koizumi forcing through his postal privatization bills, while the DPJ (which is more divided at party headquarters but fares better than the LDP in terms of unity on the prefectural level) has its “Dark Emperor” Ozawa knocking on the doors of local industry and letting people know how freaking much it means for him to chalk up a victory immediately after taking the helm.
The DPJ isn’t without its own problems in this election, however:
DPJ Candidate for by-election “worked at a hostess club* for 2 months”
Ota, under fire by mysterious letter, alleges ‘not all true’
A mysterious letter has emerged alleging that DPJ candidate Kazumi Ota, running in the Chiba 7th district by-election, claiming that she was the leader of a motorcycle gang during her high school years and that she is a “former cabaret girl*.” Ota’s team is annoyed by the allegations and explains, “It is true that she worked in a cabaret club for about 2 months, but other than that the letter is baseless.”
The title of the mysterious letter is “The DPJ has once again taken in a time bomb,” referring to the unfortunate behavior of former Lower House member Nagata in the recent e-mail scandal that sent the DPJ into turmoil. It reads:
“Ms. Ota was well-known as the head of a biker gang in high school, and when she was expelled from school in a shoplifting incident, the prefectural assembly had it erased from her record. The company she worked for after graduating caused social problems with door-to-door sales of high-priced study materials. She worked for store after store as a cabaret girl. If she gets elected, she’ll cause even more scandal than Taizo Sugimura and end up in the weeklies.”
To this, her administrative manager, Akira Tanaka, explains, “It’s true that she worked as a cabaret girl after an invitation from a friend,” but denies the other charges (sort of): “She rode a motorcycle to school, but she was not in a biker gang. She was arrested as a juvenile, but not for shoplifting. She was just picked up for being alone in a park at night after fighting with her parents.” And the high-priced study books? “The government did take action against the company she worked for from 1998-2002, but that was after she quit.”
One senior member of the DPJ Chiba prefectural chapter called the tactic “cowardly.”
Meanwhile, Yoshiro Mori, leader of the powerful Mori Faction of the LDP, has spoken out against such negative tactics: “A reverse effect comes out with negative campaigning, such as (in Ota’s case) she only graduated from high school, or she used to do some not-so-nice things in the past. A deputy mayor in some prefecture once had (yakuza) tattoos on his back, which someone pointed out. But they told him ‘So what?’ and he couldn’t reply.”
Ota ran away from direct questions, passing them on to her staff. The mysterious letter must have been quite a shock.
*(NOTE: “cabaret clubs” in Japan are places where businessmen go and are served by pretty young female hostesses. A fun description of one can be found at YH Chang Heavy Industries if you have about 15 minutes to spare and can read fast)
Looking at her website, Ota was the youngest person elected to Chiba prefectural assembly last year (representing Matsudo City, also in a by-election). She enjoys snowboarding and white powersuits, and seems to be campaigning on a populist, anti-economic disparity campaign of “zero losers”. Well, with 5 people running, this race for the Lower House will produce exactly four losers, and she won’t be one of them if Ozawa has anything to say about it.
Saito, meanwhile, super-elite (Tokyo University undergrad, Harvard master’s) bureaucrat at METI before being a vice governor in Saitama and then running on the LDP ticket after a public solicitation for candidates. On paper he seems eminently more qualified, but my gut tells me to go with the biker chick!
(Bottom picture – Ozawa forcing a smile. As part of his promise to be a “new Ozawa” the notorious back-room dealer who says he considers press conferences a “service” to reporters is attempting to appeal to average voters in the role of high-profile leader. I love it!)