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Thursday, July 12, 2012
Heavyweight already in election-survival mode
Ozawa creates new party to counter Noda
By MASAMI ITO
Former Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa launched his new party together with 48 followers Wednesday, vowing to fight DPJ Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's quest to raise the consumption tax and restart idled nuclear reactors nationwide.
Ozawa's new party, Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (people's lives come first), tentatively consists of 37 Lower House lawmakers and 12 Upper House lawmakers. The number is expected to be finalized next week after the DPJ finishes procedures to expel Gaku Kato, who later decided to bolt from the ruling party to join Ozawa's group.
During the party's kickoff meeting in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, Ozawa stressed he would concentrate on fiscal and administrative reforms before a tax hike.
"We are a party that will keep our promise to the people," Ozawa said. "Sharing the philosophy of independence and symbiosis, we will actualize policies that put people's lives first."
The former DPJ kingpin's new party consists mainly of freshmen lawmakers with little experience. Political analysts are doubtful many would be able to survive another Lower House poll. Their term lasts until next summer but Noda could dissolve the chamber and call for a snap election. An election could come as soon as this fall after passage of the deficit-covering bond bill, which is necessary to execute a large portion of the fiscal 2012 budget.
With the possibility of an election not far off, Ozawa and his new party have already entered survival mode.
Ozawa has managed to collect enough followers to make the new party the third-largest group in the Lower House, after the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, and the fourth-largest in the Upper House.
His party will also form an alliance with Kizuna Party, a group of nine lawmakers who bolted from the DPJ last December after opposing Noda's tax hike. But their alliance in the Lower House, which will consist of 46 lawmakers, falls short of the 51 necessary to submit a vote of no confidence against Noda and his Cabinet.
Ozawa is also expected to seek ties with other parties, including the Social Democratic Party and New Party Daichi. He is also eyeing collaboration with popular regional groups, including Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), envisioning the likes of Italy's so-called Olive Tree alliance, which formed successive ruling coalitions of multiple small parties in the 1990s.
Political insiders and analysts, however, have responded coolly to Ozawa's new party.
Naoto Nonaka, a political science professor at Gakushuin University, criticized Ozawa's policy flip-flops — including the tax hike, which he had called for in the 1990s — depending on which party he was courting as a partner. Now Ozawa is a vehement foe of the tax hike as well as the restart of nuclear reactors — two stances widely supported by the public.
"Ozawa and his group are pushing for policies that sound good to the public for their ownsurvival," Nonaka said. "But that is not what a responsible party or leader should be doing.
"Ozawa has no credibility anymore and has used up his political capital. The era of Mr. Ichiro Ozawa has come to an end," he said.
At the moment, Noda and his ruling DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) alliance still have a majority in the Lower House — but not by much. With the mass exit of Ozawa and his loyalists, the ruling bloc will lose a majority in the chamber if 17 or more lawmakers follow suit.
And there are more than 20 "potential defectors" who rejected or abstained from voting on the tax hike but still remain in the DPJ, including ex-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who could either leave the party or side with the opposition if and when a no-confidence bid is submitted.
Ozawa and his group feel certain more lawmakers will follow their lead, but Nonaka believes that is unlikely.
"There is a major hurdle for those who decided to stay in the DPJ this time to leave. If they support a no-confidence bid, they will surely be expelled from the DPJ and will face a tough re-election fight — their political survival would be on the line if they bolt," he said.
LDP lawmaker Yuriko Koike, an Ozawa confidante for a few years in the 1990s when they were both members of the now-defunct Shinshinto and the Liberal Party, said LDP cooperation with Ozawa's new party on a no-confidence bid depends on the timing and the situation.
"I don't think the current government is worthy of our confidence. (Passage of a no-confidence vote) depends on various factors, including the timing of when it is submitted," Koike told The Japan Times. "The longer the DPJ is in power, the more our national interests are damaged."
On Ozawa, Koike noted his maneuvering has not changed.
"It's deja vu. I feel like I just accidentally turned on an old videotape," she said. "He is focused not on the future of Japan but about what is happening now and how to win the next election."