The election of political veteran Ichiro Ozawa as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan poses a threat to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, regardless of who the next prime minister will be, according to political observers.
In particular, his long career as a kingmaker may underline the lack of experience by possible successors to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who has consistently enjoyed the highest popularity among the four possible candidates and is the youngest among them, they said. The other three are Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda. Koizumi has pledged to step down when his current term ends in September.
Ozawa won the DPJ presidential poll on Friday with a 119-72 vote over Naoto Kan.
As leader of the largest opposition party, his qualifications have raised the bar for Koizumi’s successors in terms of experience, said Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University in Tokyo.
“Being young as a politician means being energetic. But it can also mean that the politician is immature or fragile,” Sone said. The negative image of young politicians was strengthened by former DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s resignation due to a false accusation based on a faked e-mail.
Critics also say Ozawa has the tactical savvy to launch deft attacks on the ruling party. A lawmaker in the House of Representatives for more than 36 years, he was secretary general of the LDP in late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Ozawa’s appointment poses the question (ahead of the September election for the LDP leader) of whether Abe is really capable and has political power (as the prime minister),” Sone said.
“Abe is very popular but lacks experience as a politician,” said Jiro Yamaguchi, a political science professor at Hokkaido University, adding that popularity without a solid career tends to be short-lived.
On foreign policy, Ozawa is expected to attack Koizumi, Abe and other LDP politicians who stand firm against China, Yamaguchi said. Ozawa, along with Kan, has criticized Koizumi as leaning too much toward the United States and said Japan needs to focus more on relations with China and South Korea.
Fukuda may be better insulated against Ozawa’s darts because he has a longer career as a politician and is more pro-China, Yamaguchi said.
The DPJ itself is confident in challenging the LDP.
“When two of us team up with each other, we would beat any leader of the LDP or any secretary general of the LDP,” Kan told a news conference last week.
Critics also said Ozawa has potential weaknesses as DPJ leader because he has not yet disclosed his detailed policies on national security, social welfare and administrative reforms to craft the party’s manifesto. The lack of policy agreement may later cause friction with DPJ members with different policies.
Ozawa told a news conference after he was appointed Friday that he will discuss the party’s policies with other members to try to reach an agreement before the election in September.