Ozawa’s main goal still to boot LDP out

At 65, longtime outsider keeps finagling to become prime minister

by Reiji Yoshida

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DPJ members.”

Then there is Ozawa’s posture on Japan’s participation in U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping forces.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, Ozawa has consistently argued that, despite the war-renouncing Constitution, Japanese troops should be able to participate in a multinational force provided the operation is authorized by the U.N.

Ozawa recently argued that his pet theory could also be applied to the NATO-led security operations in Afghanistan. He has suggested that Japanese troops could contribute to peacekeeping there because, he says, those operations are U.N. sanctioned.

But critics call Ozawa’s argument mere political theater designed to deflect criticism that the DPJ is opposed to helping international efforts to combat terrorism.

First, the critics say the electorate would never stomach putting Japanese troops in such a dangerous situation. Second, they contend that although the U.N. has sanctioned the Afghan mission, it does not directly administer it.

Ozawa, once considered dictatorial in the way he runs political parties, is also trying to show he has the savvy and flexibility to manage the DPJ.

When he was elected DPJ president, almost all political commentators questioned whether he could successfully manage the largest opposition party.

Opposition parties he has led in the past, except the DPJ, eventually broke up because members fell out with him over what they called his failure to communicate and his high-handed leadership.

But Ozawa now appears to have relented.

He has let party executives Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, both past top DPJ figures, handle most day-to-day party affairs, except for key decisions pertaining to election strategy, policy and Diet affairs.

It could be because the clock is ticking and Ozawa knows it. Debuting as the youngest LDP secretary general in 1989 at age 47, he is now 65 and is the only politician who has survived as a key player through the 1980s, 1990s and this decade.

“Not much time is left for him. As he himself has put it, he is no longer young,” Narita said, explaining Ozawa’s apparent softening.

Hirano, for his part, said Ozawa recently appears comfortable at the helm of the DPJ — indeed, much more comfortable than at any other time in recent memory.

The sense of buoyancy, said Hirano, may suggest Ozawa still has his eyes on the top prize in politics: the prime ministership.