09/11/2010, 00.00
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Democratic Party of Japan: war between Ozawa and Kan

by Pino Cazzaniga
Choice of party president and subsequently also of prime minister looms. Ichiro Ozawa is suspected of being close to the business and military communities; Naoto Kan has established a more democratic tradition closer to society's problems. Meanwhile the Japanese economy suffers from the crisis and a strong yen.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Sept. 14 at the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), elections will be held for the new party chairman. Though it is internal to the party, it actually affects the entire nation, because the elected president will also become de facto prime minister: according to the constitution head of government is elected by the Diet (parliament), where the DPJ now has an absolute majority.

Given composition of the party and, more so, the political and human personalities of the candidates, these elections are shaping up to be one of the most, if not the most, important event in the political history of Japan since 1955. They may open the path to radical change, good or bad, in the Japanese political landscape.

In light of this the personalities of the two candidates is of utmost importance, both human and political terms: Naoto Kan (63, pictured to left.), current party president and prime minister, and Ichiro Ozawa (68) former secretary of the party (right in picture).


Towards political change

To avoid a clash of the DPJ executive committee tried to reach an agreement between the two. In vain. This failure is judged positively by the prestigious newspaper Asahi:  behind the scenes manoeuvring - say its commentators - would be disastrous, because never more than at present does the Japanese population have the right to be informed about the political views of the two candidates.

Ichiro Ozawa, born in 1942, entered the Diet in 1969 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and had as a mentor Shin Kanemaru (1914-1996), who saw political strength in numbers (Parliamentary) and money. Ozawa's ability to work behind the scenes to bring agreement between the opposing currents favoured his steady ascent to election as secretary general of the party in 1989. But in 1993, Kanemaru's sentencing for political corruption; he left the party and founded his own which later merged with the DPJ. Here he continued to build on his ability to merge groups for a strong government power.

His political vision was always that of the Liberal Democratic Party. In his book (Blueprint for a New Japan) he urges the nation to bring about political legal and military reform, aimed at rebuilding Japan like any "normal nation", that is also equipped with a strong army as other nations have.

This reform would involve the removal or correction of Article 9 of the Constitution ("... the Japanese people renounce war as sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes).

The political genesis of Naoto Kan is very different. Born in 1946, graduated in 1970, for years he worked as a social activist beside Mrs. Fusae Ichikawa (1893-1981), a renowned activist who dedicated her life for the rights of women.

He succeeded in being elected to parliament in 1980, and became famous in 1996 when, as minister of health, analyzing documents from the ministry, he admitted the responsibility of previous governments in the spread of HIV infected blood during the '80s and apologised to victims.

If Ozawa trumpets strength and power as a means of government, Khan gives priority to the content of the program for social good. A politics of end goals over that of means.


The two faces of Japanese politics

To focus on the challenge that underlies this election debate we need to focus on two sets of initials: LDP and DPJ. Both claim to be "democratic" but the first has never been so while the second is struggling to be so. The logic of the former is represented by Ozawa, the second is lived by Kan. In the history of each of the two parties, reflects the political history of Japan since 1955. Thus summarized:

In 1955, two right-wing parties (the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party of Japan) joined to form the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which removed the socialists who had ruled the nation for about 50 years from government. It was the period of prodigious growth of the nation. This system of government is indicated by historians as "system 55", indicating its date of birth. Democratic government? I do not think so. Documents recently made public allow us to draw a negative opinion. For the first 20 years the U.S. government fostered stability in Japan, supporting the LDP with hundreds of millions of dollars.  Later aid came from large industrial and financial groups in Japan.

Institutionally "system 55" ended in 2009 when after a disastrous election defeat, the LDP had to hand over government to the DPJ. But in reality its decline dates back to fifteen years earlier.

The Democratic Party of Japan, instead, was established 27 April 1998 from the merger of some smaller parties, created by a breakaway of the LDP and Socialist parity. Evidently there are two souls in the DPJ, a liberal and a socialist. But when in 2003, Ozawa and his new party merged with the DPJ at the invitation of then president Yukio Hatoyama, the balance of two souls was broken in favour of the Ozawa current: he has brought not only his tremendous organizational skills but also his political ideology: the power of numbers.

And this ideological perspective has wasted no time in achieving its objective. When he joined the DPJ he brought 30 members and now has formed a group of 150 members, the largest in the party: of these several are referred to as "Ozawa's children" or "Ozawa's girls", because they entered parliament with its help.


Pressing priorities for the country

Yasuharu Ishikawa, professor of politics at Gakushuin Women's College (Tokyo) wrote: "What is interesting about this competition is that while Khan is pragmatic, because he speaks from the perspective of the ruling party, Ozawa has assumed the role of the opposition , though I doubt the practicality of his policy proposals. " In other words, Kan., as prime minister is forced to adhere to a realistic policy. Ozawa builds on his role as a challenger to criticize the administration.

Alex Martin, editor of The Japan Times, notes that the battle between Kan and Ozawa comes at a time during which the nation is struggling in the suffering of an economy in free fall, a yen that is too high and other problems that require attention. A columnist of Asahi observes: "As DPJ MPs are entrusted with the grave responsibility of voting on behalf of all the people, we ask them to keep firmly in mind and look carefully at the candidates prior to voting."

An exhortation that is anything but superfluous, because in Japan there is a strong "moral of the giri" (moral of individual recognition). In a recent interview Yukio Hatoyama, the former president of the DPJ said: "I became prime minister thanks to the kind guidance of Mr. Ichiro Ozawa”. A commendable attitude in personal relationships, but not sustainable when it comes to the public good.

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See also
Prime Minister Naoto Kan keeps his job as yen reaches 15-year high
Government change in Tokyo baffles politicians, worries ordinary people
Opposition party embroiled in scandal, fears impact on election
The rise to power Ichiro Ozawa: the "shadow shogun".
Japan turning the page, closer to the Church’s social doctrine


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