Trying to understand the DPJ Leadership Race

“I have long since given up trying to read Ozawa’s mind and am willing to believe that any, or all, or none of these reasons is the real reason for Ozawa’s decision.”

If you are as confused as I am about the motivations, possibilities, and prospects of the current DPJ leadership race, you can take comfort that the quote above is taken from a blog post of chief DPJ cheerleader Tobias Harris.

Yours truly is a pessimistic conservative, with a very low opinion of the DPJ. Yet I am surprised to find myself too dumbfounded by the ironies and contraditions of the DPJ leadership race to have an opinion at this latest round of musical chairs. In lieu of asserting any case or opinion one way or the other, I would note these ironies and contraditions and open up the floor to comments.

1. Public opinion polls put Ozawa as the favored candidate to be PM by 17%, and Kan favored by 64%. With those poll numbers, Ozawa would not be a viable contender, let alone favorite to win, in any other parliamentary democracy.

2. The poll numbers reflect a fascinating contradition: Kan is well-liked, but who brought the party to lose the last election, while Ozawa is widely mistrusted, yet is a master electoral strategist.

3. Said otherwise, Kan has a record of being a pretty incompetent political leader (like saying that he should raise taxes just before an election), but he ironically has more popularity with the public, perhaps mainly due to a few lucky breaks in his political career. Meanwhile, Ozawa is one of Japan’s politicians when it comes to planning election campaigns and fielding the right candidates in the right districts, but he is tainted by dozens of scandals and featherlight loyalties to any institution other than himself.

4. As observed by Shisaku: “If [Ozawa] wins the contest, he destroys the party: either metaphorically through the collapse of its public support or physically as large groups break off, forming new parties. If he loses a formal leadership contest, he gashes his aura of awesome power. The humiliation of losing could indeed drive him to leave the party, with a passel of his followers in tow (taking his ball and going home — which he has done time and time again).” No matter who wins, the DPJ will be the loser.

5. Despite Shisaku’s comment, I don’t deny the possibility that, after five feckless prime ministers, Ozawa just might be the right candidate to break the cycle and serve out a proper term, providing some much-needed leadership, and could turn out to be a successful, and even popular, prime minister.

The leadership election takes place on 14 September. It will be interesting to watch because it will be the first DPJ leadership vote in 8 years to be more than a vote by parliamentarians. Votes will be cast by party supporters and members, using a “point system” to allocate votes to the candidates.

15 thoughts on “Trying to understand the DPJ Leadership Race”

  1. No matter who wins, the DPJ will be the loser.

    On the other hand:

    Despite Shisaku’s comment, I don’t deny the possibility that, after five feckless prime ministers, Ozawa just might be the right candidate to break the cycle and serve out a proper term, providing some much-needed leadership, and could turn out to be a successful, and even popular, prime minister.

    Sure, there’s a possibility. There is, however, a much greater possibility (even probability) that Ozawa will use his new authority to exert greater influence over party members for the benefit of his group at the expense of the country. Given his past track record of backroom dealing and opaque policy-making, even if Ozawa is as squeaky-clean as he claims he is, he simply isn’t the man to run Japan at a time when the public are clamoring for a more transparent government (even if said government is somewhat tone-deaf at times).

    Also, he still hasn’t shown even a smidgen of concern about the deficit or deflation, instead talking up public spending (and rubbing the high JPY in Kan’s face). Yes, public spending is necessary during an economic downturn, but you need to show that you have a plan for Japan’s economic future even if that plan isn’t politically popular. (Kan needs to do more of this as well, for the record.)

  2. Thanks for the comment rabuho — good points.

    One comment in 24 hours makes it look like the MF readership is as speechless as I am on this whole affair.

  3. Wataru, you’re always so quick to share your opinion — why are you so cagey on Ozawa? You keep saying “you/the mass media/the people/the man have got it WRONG!” but don’t say what’s right.

  4. Two weeklies are going after him with their new issues. One says he had a clandestine meeting with Ai Aoki at an exclusive Kyoto ryokan while another has Aoki spending the night at an Ibaraki hotel with one of his private secretaries.

  5. Unless the person he’s fucking in that hotel is a) underage or b) a DPRK spy, I couldn’t give a shit. Let’s hear some more discussion of what policies he wants to implement.

    Anyway, latest polls of both the general public and the Diet members are giving Kan the lead, for now.

  6. I don’t buy Ozawa conducting backroom dealing in the last 17 years.He was pretty clear about what he was about to do and media always made speculative argument anyway.Besides what’s more “open”then running for the prime minister of the country for a supposed to be a “Shadow shogun”?

    Support Ozawa all the way.

  7. There are any number of things about Ozawa that should make people nervous – and these things usually fly out of his own mouth. Recently in yet another attempt to “explain” the money scandal he seems to be caught up in (and “explanation” to Ozawa seems to be “they didn’t indict me, so therefore there is no problem.” Comforting.) he stated “the public prosecutors, professionals who know the law, decided twice not to indict me yet a judicial review panel made up of laypeople keeps saying they should indict me. Isn’t there something wrong with this system?”

    NO! That is the way a free society is supposed to work – the pros don’t always “get it right”, and it is the ordinary members of society’s responsibility and duty to keep an eye on the officials.

    This from a man who keeps saying the DPJ must do thus-and-so as it is “the will of the people”, but then ignores or disparages “the will of the people” if it turns against him.

    Or when there was that Imperial Household Agency inspired ruckus about the Cabinet asking the Emperor to meet with a Chinese official who was going to visit Japan. Ozawa turned on a reporter at a press conference and thundered “Have you read the Constitution?” Yet this is the same Ozawa who wanted to give foreigners the right to vote despite the Constitution very clearly saying “the election and dismissal of public officials is the exclusive right of citizens”. All I could think was “Ozawa, have you read the Constitution?”

    In the end, Ozawa is all about Ozawa. I am not at all convinced he has the best interests of Japan at heart. I am not sure Kan always does either, but I have seen Kan step forward and do the right thing (as he did when he was Health Minister way back when). I do not ever recall seeing Ozawa do the right thing, unless one considers “doing the right thing” to be him taking his ball and going home (which I confess I find to be better than his staying on the field).

  8. “Let’s hear some more discussion of what policies [Ozawa] wants to implement.”

    Both candidates — Kan and Ozawa — have staked out their positions.

    Both candidates have expressed concern about the state of the Japanese economy. Both candidates — as usual — are vague about what they intend to do about it, leaving little doubt that not much will change to Japanese institutions or income growth in the short- to medium-term. In fact, whoever wins one thing is fairly certain: the Japanese economy will continue to muddle through as it always has.


    Wants to use social security spending (which is already 30% and rising of the national budget) to create jobs in health, nursing, and child-care industries. How many jobs will be created? What impact will this spending have on the national budget? What effect will these measures have on long-term employment and economic growth? Kan doesn’t say. Meanwhile, Kan also wants to raise the consumption tax to protect social security without acknowledging that reduced disposable income of Japanese households will not help economic growth.


    Wants to move away from export-led growth and focus on stimulating domestic consumer demand. How does Ozawa intend to achieve this idea in a nation suffering from a low fertility rate and an aging society? Ozawa doesn’t say. He is against raising the consumption tax. Instead, he pledges if elected to remain somehow faithful to the vague and contradictory promises found in the August 2009 DPJ manifesto (e.g., “protecting people’s lives” — which presumably means childcare allowances and further agricultural subsidies, among other things.) Where will the money come from to implement these expenditures? Ozawa hints that he would try (operative word) to streamline local subsidies in order to create further autonomy and reduce the tax transfer obligations of the central government (currently 19% and rising of the national budget).

    Whoever wins, either victory spells a continued deterioration of the national fiscal imbalance, sluggish growth, and more reliance on the bond market.

    The DPJ over the past year have proven that cutting “wasteful spending” (however defined) will not finance Ozawa’s policy proposals. In an article in April 2010, I mentioned:

    “[The DPJ’s] falling support for the Hatoyama cabinet [is]…a referendum on the decision-making process. To date, the DPJ has suggested a modest increase in the number of political appointees to the ministries (from the current 80 to roughly 100), the abolition of party-sponsored research councils, and the establishment of a ‘National Strategy Bureau.’ Yet the critical issues were always the staffing, resources, and time afforded to these elected representatives relative to the ministries. As long as politicians received only two to three staffers, were allotted a mere 7 percent of the national budget for the cabinet and Diet, and were left out of the loop on ministerial advisory councils, the Hatoyama cabinet could not be expected to exercise any real authority over the decision-making process.

    “These realities were driven home during the fiscal 2010 budget talks. The ministries were ordered to reduce ‘wasteful spending,’ but only produced a combined total of ¥1.3 trillion in savings (versus the cabinet’s expected ¥7 trillion). Rather than standing behind his party’s policy promises, the premier simply waffled on DPJ pledges to repeal the gasoline tax, eliminate highway tolls, and achieving ¥12.6 trillion in spending cuts by 2011. Hatoyama’s DPJ now presides over the largest general account budget (¥92.3 trillion) in Japan’s history with little to show for it.”

    Paul J. Scalise

  9. “NO! That is the way a free society is supposed to work – the pros don’t always “get it right”, and it is the ordinary members of society’s responsibility and duty to keep an eye on the officials”

    Funny. Here I was thinking liberalism was all about having a public space dictated by laws, where people were generally free to do what they want, public opinion be damned, as long as they do not break those laws. If you let the public interpret and apply the law (and I don’t see them uncovering any new facts about the case) according to their popular opinion, it kind of defeats the purpose.

  10. @Fat Tony – so juries are a bad thing now? Because that is basically what juries do, look at the evidence and decide guilt or innocence, and in some cases even decide on punishment of the guilty.

    The judicial review board isn’t there to “uncover” new facts. They look at the facts and decide whether or not someone should be indicted. They are supposed to keep the prosecutors honest. Prosecutors looked at the facts and said Ozawa should not be indicted. A review board looked at those same facts and said he should – and by enough of a margin to force the prosecutors to re-examine the case (I forget the exact numbers involved, it was covered on TV, I think there are 9 people on the panel, if 7 say “X needs to be indicted” it forces the prosecutor’s hand. Perhaps one of the lawyers here knows the exact numbers?). The prosecutors looked at the case again – and again did not indict. Now it is back at a second review board – and if it repeats what the first one said by the same margin Ozawa will be indicted. Not tried and found guilty, but indicted and he will have to stand in the dock. The only difference in court is the prosecutor’s office won’t be trying him, an outside lawyer will do that as part of the safety mechanism here is that it is assumed that if the prosecutors office gets “over-ruled” twice by a review panel then the prosecutors are “compromised” and that is why they are not pursuing the case.

    We aren’t talking mob rule, we are talking about a fundamental cornerstone of civilized society – watching the watchmen.

  11. Based on a recent Nikkei Shimbun poll (below), I think it’s fair to say that a representative sample of the electorate doesn’t believe that the election if being fought over clear and stark policy differences. In fact, the election — like most (all?) postwar Japanese elections — seems to be more about symbolism and perception than substance and a cost-benefit analysis. The majority who favor Kan due it by default because they can’t support (支持できない) Ozawa. Likewise, the majority who favor Ozawa, do it — not because of his policies — but because he’s perceived to have leadership skills (指導力がある). A small minority actually choose their support of either candidate based on policy differences. This might explain why corporate Japan — especially Nippon Keidanren and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry — have not come out in favor of either candidate. They don’t believe the differences are too great or that their intended policies are so unclear it’s a waste of time. Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Nippon Keidanren, has publicly suggested as much when he called for “more serious debate over policy.” As I mentioned above, my personal conclusion based on the details of the DPJ manifesto, the track-record of the DPJ over the past year, the comments of both candidates, and the attitude of the majority of the electorate, is that it won’t make much of a difference either way who wins: Japan will just muddle through as usual.

    Q5. 9月の民主党代表選は菅直人首相と小沢一郎前幹事長の一騎打ちの構図となる見通しです。あなたは2人のうちどちらが首相にふさわしいと思いますか。 (SA) N=940
    ( 67) 菅直人首相
    ( 15) 小沢一郎前幹事長
    ( 19) (いえない・わからない)

    Q5SQ. (「いえない・わからない」と回答した方に)強いて言えば、どちらがふさわしいと思いますか。 (SA) n=175
    ( 31) 菅直人首相
    ( 11) 小沢一郎前幹事長
    ( 57) (いえない・わからない)

    (Q5+SQ合計) (SA) N=940
    ( 73) 菅直人首相
    ( 17) 小沢一郎前幹事長
    ( 11) (いえない・わからない)

    Q5SQ1. (「菅直人首相」と回答した方に)あなたが選んだ候補が首相にふさわしいと思う理由は何ですか。ひとつだけお答え下さい (SA) n=682
    ( 12) 人柄が信頼できる
    ( 3) 指導力がある
    ( 7) 清潔である
    ( 4) 政策や方針が良いから
    ( 70) 小沢前幹事長を支持できないから
    ( 1) (その他)
    ( 2) (いえない・わからない)

    Q5SQ2. (「小沢一郎前幹事長」と回答した方に)あなたが選んだ候補が首相にふさわしいと思う理由は何ですか。 (SA) n=157
    ( 0) 人柄が信頼できる
    ( 67) 指導力がある
    ( 2) 清潔である
    ( 4) 政策や方針が良いから
    ( 19) 菅首相を支持できないから
    ( 5) (その他)
    ( 4) (いえない・わからない)

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