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Monday, Sept. 22, 2008

Ozawa, DPJ have to prove they can govern


Staff writer

Now that Ichiro Ozawa has officially been handed a third term as president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ is gearing up for the upcoming general election in hopes of taking control of the government under Ozawa's leadership.

Speculation is rife that the new prime minister, who will come to power this week following the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election Monday, will call a snap election for Oct. 26.

While experts say Ozawa's uncontested re-election in the DPJ leadership race is understandable considering his achievements — such as the party's huge victory in the July 2007 Upper House election — they question whether the DPJ is truly capable of governing.

Masaru Kohno, a political science professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, says Ozawa has done a good job of getting his sense of mission across, as he has repeatedly stated he is putting his political career on the line to change the national political landscape.

But the elections won by the DPJ were all for the Upper House and not for the more powerful Lower House, Kohno points out.

"I think there may be reasons that the party has never won the Lower House. It could be that voters sometimes want to teach the LDP a lesson, but they may not necessarily want the DPJ to run the government yet."

Kohno notes that the DPJ has repeatedly said it would replace the bureaucrat-led system with one led by politicians, but the party has not clarified how it would go about accomplishing this.

Politicians are capable of creating laws, but they may not be able to do a thorough job of carrying out policies, which is usually done by bureaucrats, he says.

"It is not clear if it is really possible to govern without any aid from bureaucrats in Japan."

Ozawa, who missed his chance to form a government in November when talks with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda failed to create a grand coalition, admitted then that DPJ lawmakers were inexperienced and that it would be difficult for the party to win a Lower House election on its own.

Yu Uchiyama, an associate professor of Japanese politics at the University of Tokyo, also says Ozawa's re-election is warranted but points out that he needs to be more exact on how he would implement the party's policy pledges.

For instance, Uchiyama says, it's unclear where the DPJ would find the money for its pledged ¥26,000 monthly family allowance for each child, or for its promise of financial aid for farmers.

"Also, there are conflicting views over security issues among the DPJ members," Uchiyama said.

Some members of the DPJ are said to be supportive of the ruling coalition's plan to extend the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in the fight against terrorism while the party holds the official stance of opposing it. The DPJ, which counts both conservatives and liberals among its members, is divided on other security issues as well, including whether to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

Some DPJ members, including former party leader Seiji Maehara, had said the party presidential election would be a good opportunity to actively discuss policies and get the message out to voters. Yet no one ran against Ozawa when the idea of presenting a united front proved more appealing.

The uncontested race was overshadowed by the LDP's presidential election, in which the five candidates appeared on TV every day from the time official campaigning kicked off Sept. 10.

"I think the LDP presidential election has basically been a pain for the DPJ," says Waseda's Kohno.

Instead of holding a presidential election, the DPJ has been trumpeting its readiness for the next general election, announcing that Ozawa may change his home district from the Iwate No. 4 to somewhere else. The party suggested that Ozawa may run in the Tokyo No. 12 district, the home base of New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota.

While these topics gained some media attention, Kohno says the DPJ is not doing a good job of courting more media coverage.

Whether the DPJ is capable or not, Ozawa will likely become prime minister if the party takes a majority in the Lower House, either by itself or together with other opposition parties, in the general election.

Ozawa is known for creating and breaking up parties, earning the nickname "kowashiya," or "destroyer."

In 1993, he played a key role in the forming of the Morihiro Hosokawa Cabinet, the first non-LDP administration in almost four decades. But the Cabinet, with representatives of several different parties, did not last long, and the LDP took back control of the government in less than a year.

Kohno says that whether Ozawa can have a stable Cabinet is up to the results of the election, but he probably understands that having power is different from breaking it.

"I think he knows that he cannot run the government by himself and needs teamwork," he said.



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