Musical Chairs

Ichiro Ozawa resigned last week as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) over a fundraising scandal. The opposition democrats had a leadership election on Saturday and were faced with the choice between Yukio Hatoyama and Katsuya Okada, two former DPJ leaders with solic track records as total losers. Hatoyama won by a comfortable margin.


The basic political profiles of the two men are:

* Hatoyama was head of the DPJ from 1999 to 2002, after which he resigned after taking responsibility for the “confusion” over rumors about the merger with the Liberal Party, which was at the time lead be former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. The two parties ultimately did merge, and Hatoyama took a role in party leadership. (Hatoyama’s tenure was preceded and followed by Naoto Kan, another regular in the leadership roster of the DPJ).

* Okada became head of the DPJ in 2004 and led the party to one of its largest electoral victories in history during the 2004 upper house election. The winning streak didn’t last — he resigned a year later after his party suffered a dramatic losses in the 2005 general election that saw Koizumi’s ruling party the Liberal Democratic Party take its strongest win in history.

For an opposition party that has been floundering in defeat for more than a decade as it struggles to take power, the candidates for the leadership are a sorry pair. Not only are they both uncharasmatic repeat losers, it shows the party has a poor ability at cultivating new leaders.

Hatoyama’s selection is especially ironic when you consider that weeks ago, the DPJ suddenly made their public pet issue the ending of hereditary elected positions. In many districts in Japan, long-serving members of the Diet retire and have sons run in their place. I don’t have current figures, but I’ve read that at one time, as many as one third of the districts had such hereditary members. The DPJ is trying to end the practice, but this new and sudden moral mission is amusingly ironic now that Hatoyama is the party leader. Hatoyama is the grandson of former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, the son of former Foreign Minister Iichiro Hatoyama, and his brother is the current ruling party Minister of Justice. Do the rules, or at least the spirit of the rules, not apply to the leaders?

Hatoyama’s impending task is leading the party into an election that is just months away. The DPJ was favored to win for months, but with the new fundraising scandals facing the party and PM Aso finally finding his mojo, the LDP may now manage to win yet another election. And when Hatoyama and Okada are the best possible men to be proposed to lead the nation, perhaps that’s for the best.

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