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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
Don between rock, DPJ hard place
Time running out for Ozawa to bolt or face the music under oath
By KANAKO TAKAHARA and NATSUKO FUKUE
Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa is being driven into a corner over mounting calls, including from within the DPJ, to give sworn testimony in the Diet over his money scandal and may feel compelled to quit the party, a move his allies would likely follow.
Ozawa has steadfastly refused to give unsworn testimony before the Lower House ethics panel only to now find himself coming under pressure to appear under oath.
If Ozawa leaves the DPJ, some of his loyal supporters would probably leave with him, weakening the party's strength under Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is being forced to reach out to the opposition for cooperation to gain enough votes to pass next year's budget.
Ozawa's departure from the DPJ is "a possibility," said Kazuaki Tanaka, a political science professor at Takushoku University.
Pushing Ozawa, who faces mandatory indictment over his alleged involvement in the falsification of his political funding report, out of the party would provide Kan's administration with a clean image, Tanaka said.
Ozawa allegedly loaned ¥400 million to his fund management body to purchase property in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. But he has flip-flopped over where he got the money, claiming at first it was a donation, then a bank loan and then saying it came from his personal assets.
"We can't entrust politics to a lawmaker who (switches explanations) on where the huge amount of money came from," Tanaka said. "Even if the number of party lawmakers decreases, (Kan) should push Ozawa out and cooperate with other parties on a policy basis."
If Ozawa were to leave the DPJ and form a new party, he would have to do so by the end of this month to qualify for government subsidies for political parties. The subsidies are based on the number of lawmakers a party has as of Jan. 1.
The DPJ is expected to discuss next Monday whether to vote for a Lower House political ethics panel decision to summon Ozawa to give unsworn testimony. This will leave Ozawa less than a week to decide whether to leave the party.
What is making Ozawa and his supporters more anxious are the mounting calls for him to give sworn testimony before the Diet.
"Sworn testimony is an option," a senior DPJ member told reporters Tuesday. "It's not a bluff. We're serious."
The remark came a day after Kan met with Ozawa to persuade him in vain to voluntarily appear before the Lower House political ethics panel — without being under oath.
Ozawa's allies see this as a move by Kan and his supporters to force Ozawa out of the party by switching to a push for sworn testimony.
If a Diet panel, most likely the budget committee, summons Ozawa, the decision is binding with a penalty of up to a year in prison or a maximum ¥100,000 fine if he refuses to turn up.
Lying under oath could draw perjury charges.
It appears unlikely at present that Ozawa and his disciples will quit the DPJ by month's end, not just because of the short time to decide but also because Ozawa faces mandatory indictment next month, said a DPJ source who asked not to be named.
"If Ozawa is indicted, his political clout will weaken and he will be busy preparing for his trial," the source said.
Political observer Eiken Itagaki agrees.
"The party won't split up for the time being," Itagaki said. "They are just putting up a fighting pose."
Kan and Ozawa are both cognizant of a request from Nobuaki Koga, chairman of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the DPJ's major vote-gathering machine, to keep the party intact, he said.
Itagaki predicted that Kan will reshuffle the Cabinet next month and possibly replace Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku to ensure smooth Diet deliberations on the budget.
Opposition parties have demanded Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi be replaced after two nonbinding censure motions cleared the Upper House last month.
But Itagaki said Ozawa and his supporters may leave the DPJ before the next Lower House election, which can be held no later than summer 2013.
DPJ politicians elected from the proportional representation segment in the general election last year fear they will lose seats in the next election.
"Because (some of those politicians) close to Ozawa are expected be defeated in the election, they may establish a new party" before then, he said.