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Bizarre Politics in Japan

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 Posted: 01:22 PM JST

First Prime Minister Fukuda approaches the largest opposition party in Japan, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), to discuss a coalition. Then DPJ's leader Ichiro Ozawa offers to step down after other DPJ topmen did not agree with him on going into sea with the governing LDP. They beg him to stay on and a few days later he reconsiders and decides not to resign. The past week of Japanese politics has been like an out-of-body experience, totally insane and incomprehensible.

Fukuda seemed to have taken an incredible gamble in approaching Ozawa. And he doesn't come across as a gambler at all. Looking back at his career, taking risks does not seem to be part of his make-up. Which makes you wonder why he approached Ozawa in the first place.

When Fukuda proposed a grand coalition with the DPJ to Mr. Ozawa on Friday, Ozawa was reportedly positive about the proposal. In any way, he did not reject Fukuda's proposal as he should have done. DPJ executives immediately strongly criticized him for this in a meeting held shortly after the meeting with Fukuda. They also rejected the coalition proposal.

The proposal was bizarre and totally undemocratic. The whole idea of a democracy is that the power of government is checked. A coalition between the leading parties that would command more than 90 percent of both houses of the Diet, effectively makes that impossible. Not to mention that voters were completely excluded from this discussion. Ozawa should have reacted angrily, shocked and insulted. The Japanese people would have stood on his side. He could have forced new elections and the DPJ would have won as white shining knights who will not be corrupted by power.

Instead, Ozawa now looks like a cunning fox without principles, or plain childish and stupid. Either way, he has lost the trust of many voters. It doesn't speak well for the DPJ that they have to beg him to stay on. A strong opposition party should have a supply of charismatic leaders. The DPJ clearly has not. In backing a leader who has behaved so irresponsibly, they also look irresponsible themselves.

With the advantage of hindsight that we now have about Ozawa's and his party's reaction, you have to wonder if Fukuda planned all this.

The DPJ won an overwhelming election victory this Summer and now has a great majority in the Upper House. Although the LDP still rules the Lower House and thereby the cabinet, it has lost a lot of power. Ever since the Fukuda government came to power in September, there has been a terrible political gridlock with nothing getting done. Not a single bill has been passed by the Diet.

Ozawa's DPJ had the power to influence the political situation and even win more seats in the Lower House in the next general elections, which may come as early as Spring or Summer 2008. Some believed that during the next elections, Japan would elect the DPJ to rule.

All that is now up in the air. Ozawa looks as a childish irresponsible idiot who can not be depended on. His party is divided, confused and in disarray. Japanese people don't look kindly on people who don't cooperate --which plays against people in the opposition--, but they were also sick of the LDP, which has been ruling the country for more half a century. This finally gave an opposition party a window of opportunity. That window may just have been thrown shut again.

Did Fukuda anticipate a split between Ozawa and other DPJ executives and did he try to divide and rule? If so, he is far craftier than he appears. And if he did anticipate this, he has succeeded.

The next few weeks should tell us what the events of the past few days will mean for Japanese politics, but after the Abe fiasco, and the political gridlock of the past month, this was the last thing Japan needed.

Keywords: opinion_item

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
Stone Bridge Press

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