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Japanese PM Candidate Choice Based on "Shadow Shogun"'s Status

The dominant personality of Ichiro Ozawa rather than policy is the major factor in selecting the Japanese PM, despite major problems.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/29/2011, 7:49 AM

He officially has lost party privileges till his trial over political fundraising violations is adjudicated. Ichiro Ozawa, dubbed the "shadow shogun " remains however the major factor in the leadership selection process within the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to choose a successor to has-been Naoto Kan.

The 69-year-old Ichiro Ozawa was marginaized during the Kan era and he wants to come back to center stage . As a result, ideology has taken a backseat in the struggle and the most important issue has become Ozawa's role in the DPJ.

Ozawa, who together with Yukio Hatoyama, controls about 150 of the Diet members who comprise the electorate (200 constitute the winning majority), has tapped the trade minister Banri Kaieda to be the successor rather than former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in the August 29 election.

Kaieda did not impress people when he burst into tears during the parliamentary question-and-answer period. He had the Japanese word for perseverance scrawled on the palm of his hands hoping that it would help him maintain his composure during the debate, but it didn't.

What Kaieda does have going for him is precisely his dependence on Ozawa.  According to the Asahi Shimbun, Kaieda ingratiatd himself as follows: "Without borrowing the strength of Ozawa, not only is victory in the presidential election impossible, but there would be no way to save the nation of Japan", Kaieda told Ozawa's supporters. "I pledge to make the maximum effort to allow Ozawa to exercise his skills to the fullest."

At a meeting otheir joint faction at a Tokyo hotel Friday evening, Ozawa and Hatoyama announced that Kaieda was their man. The choice did not arouse much enthusiasm but  a junior member of the faction managed to stir up the assembled legislators when, according to Yomiuri Shimbun ,he proposed:

"Let's make Mr. Kaieda the prime minister this year, and next year we should make Mr.Ozawa prime minister."

The attendees immediately burst into applause and shouted, "Let's do it," three times.

Maehara had opposed Ozawa's return to an active role, but in the interest of party unity was willing to offer the Ozawa faction high-ranking jobs in this cabinet. This was not enough and Ozawa decided to blackball Meahara.

Such antics amongst the leadership aspirants has reduced interest amongst the Japanese public in the debate that will precede the balloting and it will not be shown on a major network.

Japan's major newspapers are lamenting the fact that the election is centering on personal ambitions and a reluctance to provide clarity to policy positions.

Asahi Shimbun, sympathetic to the DPJ, claims that Kan's successor will not prove any more successful given the disarray in the party. In a sense the DPJ has not managed to form a cohesive party after it achieved the principal ambition of its leaders: Unseating the perennial party of government, the Liberal Democratic Party.

"As soon as it achieved this political goal, however, the party found itself without a shared vision and plunged into an endless cycle of infighting. The DPJ's track record since it came to power suggests that the group is too politically immature to be called a political party," said the newspaper.

Given the country's economic position and the need to outline a clear policy direction for the public, the paper recommends a party realignment based on policy  that would group together members of the DPJ and LDP along a policy axis.

It is hard to imagine this coming about in the immediate future , so that the Japanese political system and the economic system will probably continue to stagnate.