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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ANALYSIS

A boost for DPJ, at LDP's expense


By MASAMI ITO and KAZUAKI NAGATA
Staff writers

With Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa intending to resign over a political fundraising scandal, the party may regain some momentum for the upcoming general election, analysts say.

This could be bad news for Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has been enjoying a surge in the support rating for his Cabinet.

Norihiko Narita, president of Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture, pointed out that the public's discontent was not with the DPJ but with Ozawa.

"Now that the DPJ is able to remove this big obstacle, it is going to have the wind at its back," Narita said, adding that if Ozawa had remained in his post, he was likely to have evoked even more public resentment.

"For the LDP, on the other hand, things are going to get tough," Narita said.

According to Narita, Ozawa's announcement to resign was "the biggest political decision" he has ever made, even more momentous than bolting from the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993.

"I think he just risked everything for his final battle to take power," Narita said. Ozawa's decision to step down "shows his strong will (for the DPJ) to seize control of the government."

With Ozawa set to walk away from the party's leadership, the question arises as to who the next DPJ president will be. Various names have been mentioned, including former DPJ chief Seiji Maehara and current deputy chief Naoto Kan.

However, critics agree the most likely candidate is former party chief Katsuya Okada.

With a scandal-free, "clean" image, it is likely that his leadership would unify the party, Narita said.

But Narita voiced concerns that Okada may not be as flexible as Ozawa over forming an alliance with other opposition parties.

Even though the Upper House is controlled by the opposition parties, the DPJ does not have an outright majority and must rely on the cooperation of other parties, such as the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party).

"Ozawa is realistic, but Okada has a tendency to stick to his opinions," Narita said.

SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima, however, stressed that her party will continue to cooperate with the DPJ.

"The opposition parties will continue fighting together no matter who becomes the head of the DPJ," Fukushima said. "The SDP will continue making efforts to bring down the LDP-led government."

The big question remains when Aso will dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election. There is not much time left, as the term of the lower chamber ends in September.

Nobuhiro Hiwatari, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Social Science, said Ozawa's resignation is unlikely to have any affect on the timing of the general election.

He predicted the election will be held after the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race and the Group of Eight in July, with Aso hoping that public support will grow as more of his policies are implemented to pull the economy out of recession.

"There doesn't seem to be many people saying Aso should hold an election as soon as he can, and he may have gained more of a free hand," Hiwatari said. "And from Aso's viewpoint, he may be thinking of holding the election after" scoring more points.

Either way, the next few months are going to be a war of nerves for both the LDP and DPJ because the election will decide which party will lead the nation.

Hiwatari said that while Ozawa's three years of leadership strengthened the DPJ as an organization, it is still not clear what direction the party wants to take. With its membership ranging from liberals to ultraconservatives, the DPJ has often been criticized for not having unified policies.

"Ozawa was known for pouring his energy into election campaigns, but when it came to policies, all one really knew was that he was against the ruling bloc," Hiwatari said. Under its next president, the DPJ "needs to organize its policies because right now it is known for its inconsistencies."



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