Miyagi hard loss to swallow for Shinshinto’s Ozawa> Staff writer

Although Ichiro Ichikawa, a former member of the Upper House, lost the gubernatorial election Oct. 26 in Miyagi Prefecture, the biggest loser may turn out to be another Ichiro: Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the largest opposition party, Shinshinto.

Although Ichikawa ran in the election for governor with the backing of both Shinshinto and the Liberal Democratic Party, his loss to incumbent Shiro Asano will be a much worse political setback for Ozawa — chairman of Shinshinto’s Miyagi chapter — than for the LDP’s leadership.

But Takeo Nishioka, Shinshinto secretary general, tried to put a positive spin on the outcome and denied the result of the election would seriously damage the party or Ozawa. “We all made strenuous efforts. The loss was largely due to a lack of time to make the voters understand the problems the incumbent governor has,” Nishioka told a press conference.

But the result of the election is likely to further stoke the flames of discontent within Shinshinto over Ozawa’s high-handed style of managing the party and cast more clouds over his prospects of being re-elected party leader in an election expected in December, analysts say.

Ozawa devoted much more time and energy to the Miyagi election than he had in previous local elections as Shinshinto’s leader. After campaigning officially started Oct. 9, Ozawa visited the prefecture many times, even during the extraordinary Diet sessions that began Sept. 29. He also dispatched hundreds of party officials to the prefecture to support Ichikawa’s campaign. However, his high-profile role in Ichikawa’s campaigning seems to have backfired as it instead generated resentment among many voters, who believed Ozawa’s presence indicated someone from another prefecture had arrived to control Miyagi’s destiny, observers say.

Although Ozawa serves as chairman of Shinshinto’s Miyagi chapter, he is elected from Iwate Prefecture. He assumed the post at the Miyagi chapter after Lower House member Kazuo Aichi, who had served previously in the post, left the party in July and joined the LDP.

As soon as he had taken up the position, Ozawa moved to support Ichikawa, who served as an independent member of the Upper House, together with the LDP. Because the LDP’s Miyagi chapter is chaired by Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, many political analysts have said the cooperation is a local version of a conservative alliance between some members of the LDP and Shinshinto, which Ozawa heads. Ozawa’s actions have also raised suspicions within his party that he is trying to promote such a conservative alliance.

LDP officials were also doing their best to play down the election loss, saying the poll was a local matter and would not affect the national political scene. However, Asano’s victory indicates that voters no longer trust established major parties, including the LDP. Asano’s campaign was based on a decision to decline any support from the major parties.

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