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A series of apparent setbacks in the political arena have not dented the aspirations of the Liberal Party to shake the foundations of the system, according to its maverick leader, Ichiro Ozawa.

The Liberal Party is campaigning for the June 25 election on a pledge to restore “the spirit and honor of the Japanese” and to create an open and independent Japan that has “freedom with a clear set of rules” and less bureaucratic control.

“The spirit and honor of the Japanese . . . That’s the No. 1 issue,” Ozawa said in an interview.

“No matter how much money (people have), things would be in tatters if the integrity of the people were to collapse,” he said, citing recent crimes committed by both youngsters and adults.

The party itself saw its fortitude tested during the previous Diet session, when it broke away from the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition in April and its eventual internal split. Those Liberals who opted to stay with the ruling bloc formed the New Conservative Party.

These developments saw the Liberal Party’s ranks in both Diet chambers dwindle to 23.

Ozawa said he aims to encourage society to develop a sense of “good Japanese” — outward-looking, self-reliant citizens who have a good understanding of the nation’s history, culture and values — who would then be cosmopolitan in the true sense.

On the economy, Ozawa, a longtime advocate of deregulation, pledges to curtail state expenditures by 15 trillion yen by eliminating “unnecessary” bureaucratic tasks carried out by the central government and promoting the decentralization of power.

Ozawa believes that present-day Japan embodies what some call “socialistic capitalism,” a form of market economy that is under the strict control of bureaucrats.

This served Japan’s interests well during the postwar rehabilitation era but does not work any more, he said.

“I’m not criticizing bureaucrats. I am criticizing the politicians who are too dependent on them,” said Ozawa, who insists that stripping bureaucrats of some of their authority could dramatically revitalize private business.

“Take the cellular phone industry, for example,” he said. “Ten years ago, when it was monopolized by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry, the phones were bulky like suitcases; nobody used them.

“Then the market was liberalized and the number of cellular phones in use (in Japan) has reached 60 million today.”

Considered a key player in the political regroupings of the past decade, the charismatic Ozawa could once again emerge as a leading player in the political realignment that many observers say is not over yet.

Ozawa’s return to center stage might occur if the ruling triumvirate of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party fails to keep its majority in the Lower House in the poll, and his party manages to join a new ruling bloc.

Ozawa said the odds of that happening are pretty even.

“There is a growing feeling of unrest among the people because they cannot see how their future is going to turn out,” he said, citing the high unemployment rate and uncertain prospects of publicly run social security programs.

“I think that in this election, such an awareness will supersede the people’s general inclination to favor the status quo,” he said.

Ozawa said the defeat of the ruling coalition would lead to another radical regrouping of parties, with the Liberal Party open to teaming up with any party that it could reach agreement with on policies.

Ozawa added that his party’s split from the ruling bloc was inevitable.

“(The LDP and New Komeito) clearly said (on April 2) that they could not support our policies — something they had previously promised to do,” he said. ” If we renounce our policies, that means a breach of public faith for us.”

Referring to media speculation that he will be unable to maintain his political clout, Ozawa said his personal career is irrelevant.

“It’s the voters who will have to pay the bill for the irresponsibility of present-day politics,” he said. “And I am warning them that measures have to be taken before it is too late.

“But if the people choose irresponsible politics, that is that. After all, it is up to the voters,” he said, adding that if this happens, he will return to his hometown in Iwate Prefecture and become a farmer.