JIN-504 -- Sports update: Ozawa fights on

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The last week has been a nice diversion for the majority of the
nation’s press and the public at large. Reporting on the dismal state
of the economy or the government’s inadequate response to the
downturn was getting old. So when the dramatics of the latest
political scandal, this time involving the Dark Prince of Japanese
democracy himself, Ichiro Ozawa, hit the presses, the feeding
frenzy that followed, was well, to be expected.

After the dust settled, about two thirds of voters were still calling
for Ozawa’s head (according to the latest Kyodo News survey, anyway).
The survey went on to report that Prime Minister Taro Aso’s approval
rating increased by eight points to 23.7 percent. It’s phenomenal to
think that the PM’s rating was below 10 percent a month or so ago.
There’s nothing like “the great equalizer” - not death, but rather the
opposition’s ability to implode. This time however it wasn’t Ozawa
giving the thumbs up to a “grand coalition” between the two seemingly
opposed parties in what is essentially a two-party system. This time
it was a more old-fashioned corruption scandal.

When Ozawa’s top aide and accountant for his political fund Takanori
Okubo, was taken into custody on suspicion of knowingly falsely
reporting donations from Nishimatsu Construction, it started a rocky
few days for the DPJ. The dramatics culminated in Ozawa’s teary
refusal to resign on Tuesday. All the foreign newspapers are labeling
the press conference as “defiant.” The Japanese papers are meanwhile
baring their teeth and drooling in anticipation of another meal following
the feasts of Fukuda and Abe. Ozawa will stay on for now. But it’s on
the proviso that the DPJ’s popularity doesn’t bottom out. Commentator
Jun Okumura gives a wrap up of the editorials of the major Japanese
press here.

http://son-of-gadfly-on-the-wall.blogspot.com/2009/03/mainstream-media-m...

Most want Ozawa to quit. All except the Yomiuri. You may all recall
that Yomiuri kingmaker Tsuneo Watanabe convened that secret meeting
between ex-PM Fukuda and Ozawa to discuss the grand coalition idea - a
massive regression in the minds of most voters (probably due to the
fact they would cease to be actual voters if this coalition became
reality). There was another press conference called at this time when
an equally defiant Ozawa said that he wouldn’t resign.

Months passed and luckily PM III Taro Aso’s supreme un-likeableness
caused most of the public to quickly forget the whole coalition
fiasco. A good thing for the DPJ as well, considering that they had
moved into pole position by about three laps.

Of course, now the LDP is back in the game. Aso may still have to go
but he has some breathing space at last. The list of possible
replacements isn’t exactly extensive but it seems to be longer than
the DPJ’s. As mentioned in a previous JIN, I believe that Yuriko Koike
could be a popular answer to the LDP’s leadership woes. Could it be
the time for Japan’s first female PM?

Back at DPJ HQ, the sometimes fractious members of the opposition
remained silent in the face of the storm. At the first meeting of the
Democratic Party of Japan's steering committee after the arrest of
Okubo, there was little said by the attending party members. They
managed to keep their mouths shut afterwards too, when probed by the
press.

It’s no secret that Ozawa is feared (by his own party as much as by
the ruling party). Even so, the silence was an interesting gap in the
noise surrounding the whole affair. There were certainly no leadership
contenders making their voices heard. If Ozawa resigned, would that be
the end of the DPJ (as far as a real alternative)? Ozawa is the
undisputed king of the party but are there any others who could fill
his shoes? For now we won’t know. But in the time leading up to the
next election, depending on what the opinion polls say, the DPJ may
have to produce another contender. This close to the end of what has
been a brutal, one-sided (and brilliantly executed) campaign by Ozawa,
it’s hard to believe that he will limp so badly towards the finish
line.

Michael Condon
Editor-in-chief

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