JIN-423 -- Who's Saying Sayonara, Abe or Ozawa?

J@pan Inc magazine presents:
The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 423 Wednesday July 18, 2007 TOKYO

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The Upper House elections in a couple of weeks are shaping up to
be a high stakes political contest. Although it is very unlikely
that the LDP will be forced out of power as a result, the
fortunes of the party and its key figures will be greatly
affected by the results. While Abe hasn't announced that he
would definitely leave office if the LDP share of the vote is
as poor as many pessimists have predicted, Ichiro Ozawa,
President of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has publicly
stated that if the party don't achieve an Upper House victory
then 'it will be pointless for me to remain the leader.'

In fact this is not as bold a gesture as it might first appear.
Many in the party have a lack of confidence in their leader who
is not only considered to be lacking in charisma but is also
rumored to have some fairly serious health problems. Many of
the party's supporters would prefer to see someone younger and
more reformist take over the reigns. A Japanese lawyer I spoke
to told me that his support for the DPJ, like many others, is
more out of a desire to see the emergence of a two-party system
than out of any innate confidence in the competence and policies
of the party itself. He believes a DPJ victory would be 'healthy
for the system—it is not democratic to have the same party
in government all of the time.' If this view is representative
of DPJ supporters, then Ozawa is also unlikely to be the favorite
choice of leader given that he himself is a former LDP member and
in many ways has much in common with the ruling party. On the
other hand there is the question of who would replace him if he
does go? The Economist take the dim view that 'It is a measure of
how little political talent there is in the party that one figure
touted as a possible replacement is the worthy but dull Katsuya
Okada'—a former party President with an uninspiring track record.
The other possibilities, Kan Naoto and Yukio Hatoyama, are both
equally lacking in boldness although the former at least has
the dubious credential of not being ex-LDP.

[continued below...]

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[article continues...]

In terms of policy the DPJ's current strategy seems to be
principally structured around an attempt to capitalize on the
shortcomings of the LDP: pensions, child benefit and agricultural
policy. It has also tried hard to make the most of recent
scandals and blunders involving LDP cabinet members such
as the foolish comments of defense minister Kyuma who
said that the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima 'couldn't be
helped.' Ozawa has tried to attack the LDP as corrupt, bloated
and overly nationalistic. But crucially his task is to convince
the electorate that his party will be both up to the job, and
be different from the status quo. In terms of the first goal the
DPJ has made some progress partly as a result of its longevity
and partly from the post-Koizumi return to sluggish reform and
a sheepish approach to wooing the electorate.

In terms of difference, it is hard to tell because the DPJ is
very divided internally and because of its almost being an
'external faction' of the LDP. In terms of foreign policy, it's
unlikely that there would be any significant change. Ozawa
visited China early on in his presidency in order to show his
difference from Koizumi in prioritising regional relations but
Abe has already moved into this territory. In power, Ozawa
would probably try to be more cautious of alliance with the US
and less eager to push through constitutional reform—although
it would most probably remain on the agenda. Domestically the
emphasis would be on problem-solving vis-a-vis pensions, the
aging population etc. Ultimately, the LDP would probably form a
strong part of any DPJ government so it would be hard for Ozawa
to implement any major changes even if he wanted to—and it is
unclear that he does. The promise for voters lies in refreshing
the political terrain and bringing in some much need new energy
into tacking old problems. That said, Ozawa has failed to make
the face of the DPJ as clean and approachable as potential voters
require it to be and, as commentator Hisane Masaki points out,
both LDP and DPJ are charged with being 'irresponsible' on the
issue of consumption tax: the former has opted to steer clear of
an increase of 5% until after this month's election while the
latter 'has dropped its earlier proposal for an increase in the
tax rate to 8%.' Even though it is widely believed that such a
hike in consumption tax is inevitable 'in the not-so-distant
future to finance rising social-security costs and stem an even
further rise in government debts.'
(see http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/IA27Dh01.html)

But how likely is it that the DPJ will gain a majority in the
upper house elections? According to the Asahi Shimbun both
the LDP and DPJ are proving equally unpopular: on a popularity
scale from 0 to 100 Abe came out with minus 14 against Ozawa's
minus 9!
(http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200707140100.html)
With polls like that it is tough to be confident about either
leader emerging well from the elections—analysts reckon that
if the LDP lost more than 14 seats then it would be the end
for him too. Overall, it seems that it is more likely that we'll
be seeing the back of Ozawa than Abe but, the DPJ could make
significant gains even if they don't gain the majority that
they need.

As a foreigner and not having any say in the matter it relegates
interest mainly to the academic level however, if you want to
try and work out who you might be most aligned with in Japanese
politics then follow the steps recommended by this interesting
article over at http://www.stippy.com/japan-politics/japan-
upper-house-election-who-would-you-vote-for/#more-742

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor, J@pan Inc magazine

Want to comment? It is now even easier to voice your opinion
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the 'add a comment' button at the end of the article.
Alternatively you can email it directly to the author at
peter.harris@japaninc.com

[We take all comments seriously and endeavor to meet
a high standard of accuracy - please read CORRECTIONS
sections below.]

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++CORRECTIONS

JIN-422 — Smoke on the Horizon?
We reported that a smoking ban came into force in the UK on
1st July 2007. However, this was only true in England. It was
in force in Scotland from March 2006, and in Wales and Northern
Ireland from April 2007.

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