Okada declares DPJ ready to take charge, reform the public sector

by Setsuko Kamiya

Long viewed as content to live in the shadow of the entrenched Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force is now ready to seize the reins of power and carry out a thorough reform of the public sector, Democratic Party of Japan Vice President Katsuya Okada said Friday.

On its surface a war cry to rally party members ahead of a widely expected general election, the comment by the DPJ’s No. 2 also possibly hints at an ambition to aim for the top spot in the party’s presidential election in September.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, Okada said he believes there will be a general election by January, but added it could happen sooner if the new Cabinet Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is expected to form runs into trouble and loses public support.

“We intend to win the next general election,” said Okada, who headed the party for 16 months in 2004 and 2005. “But provisionally, even if we lose, that’s not the end of the DPJ like some people say. We’ve grown strong enough and will continue our effort,” he said.

Currently led by Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ won a landslide victory in the July 2007 Upper House election and now controls the chamber with other opposition parties.

When asked if he was planning to replace Ozawa, Okada said that while he has regularly given “no comment” to this question, he was now “contemplating what was the best thing to do to achieve the regime change.”

Okada, 55, began his political career in 1990 as a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party but left it in 1993. Since then, he has been working to remove the LDP from its dominant position.

Despite the changes over the years, such as economic globalization, shifting demographics and the rise of Asia in the world, Okada said the bureaucracy has yet to go through a thorough reform.