Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stark Contrasts

I visited Fukushima City on September 7 to give a lecture and met two old friends who hold seats in the upper house for the Democratic Party of Japan. One of them, who was once a Diet member for the Liberal Democratic Party, had this to say: "Ozawa is a genius. He predicted that the lower house would be dissolved within this year, setting the stage for a general election. He nailed it. Ozawa really is a genius. If the party unifies behind him, it will win. No problem." He was full of confidence that party Chair Ichiro Ozawa held the key to victory. There is a group of true Ozawa believers within the DPJ who support the party chief wholeheartedly. If a majority of the country feels like these party members, then a DPJ victory certainly seems possible. The key is whether Ozawa can inspire this sort of support from the Japanese people.

Later at Tokyo Station, I met another old friend who is a DPJ Diet member and has been with the party since it formed. Here's what he told me: "I read your website, Morita-san. I share your concerns about Ozawa's statement in Sekai magazine that Japan should join ISAF in Afghanistan. I believe we should protect Article 9. Under an Ozawa administration, I fear we will join the Afghan War."

The statement he was referring to appeared in the November 2007 issue of the general-interest magazine Sekai. Ozawa was quoted as saying, "If I am forming an administration and setting diplomacy and defense policy, then based on the situation in Afghanistan today, I would like to have Japan join the International Security Assistance Force."

I had hoped that the DPJ would hold an open party election where a variety of ideas could be discussed, but the party chose not to hold such a race. If this discussion had taken place, then the issue of joining ISAF and the oft-criticized idea expressed by Ozawa that the UN reigns supreme could have been aired before the voters. It's a shame that the party remained silent.

The party executives declare that the members fully support Ozawa, but my informal survey indicates that just below the surface, there is a lot of arm-twisting going on. A large majority of the DPJ is remaining mum on this issue. but several DPJ members have told me that Ozawa's aides are making everyone toe the line.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda watched the DPJ evade its own party election, then made his move. He resigned as prime minister and LDP president and set out to restore his party's reputation by having it hold an open election in stark contrast to the DPJ. The fate of the LDP-Komeito coalition rests on this gamble.

"Even so, this doesn't change the advantage the DPJ has," said a friend of mine who is an elections expert. "The burden left behind by Koizumi's structural reforms will prove too big for the LDP. The trend among voters to want to change things once and for all won't go away."

At this point, I see the race as even.