Ozawa given a new DPJ mandate


Ichiro Ozawa’s third term as president of the Democratic Party of Japan was effectively confirmed Monday when no one chose to run against him.

Ozawa, whose next two-year term will be made official at the DPJ’s convention Sept. 21, is already gearing up for the next general election, which is expected to take place by the end of this year, possibly in November.

“The next general election will be very important,” Ozawa told a news conference at party headquarters in Tokyo, calling it vital for getting to the root of representative democracy.

“We’ll take our responsibilities and mission seriously and try our best to take control of the government” by winning the election, he said.

Anyone seeking to run against Ozawa had between 10 and 11 a.m. to file as a candidate, providing they had the signatures of at least 20 DPJ lawmakers for endorsement.

Whereas Ozawa’s return was considered a foregone conclusion weeks ago, some DPJ members, including former President Seiji Maehara, repeatedly stressed the importance of other candidates stepping up to challenge the incumbent, to enliven policy debate and improve the party’s platform.

Many DPJ members have meanwhile said now is the time to unite behind Ozawa, who successfully brought victory to the party in the House of Councilors election in July 2007 and now effectively leads the opposition-controlled chamber.

“I think that the next general election is the stage to decide the next prime minister, and I believe Ichiro Ozawa will be one of them there,” said Hirohisa Fujii, a DPJ supreme adviser who appeared at party headquarters in the morning to file Ozawa’s candidacy as a representative of his supporters. “In that case, it is extremely important that the DPJ becomes a monolithic union.”

The DPJ faces being upstaged, however. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election may dominate the media spotlight because several party lawmakers plan to run. Campaigning kicks off Friday.

When he submitted his candidacy, Ozawa touched on some basic policies, without elaborating, including how he would resolve the pension-record fiasco, boost support for raising children, promote further government decentralization and end the way bureaucrats squander taxpayer money.

The 66-year-old veteran has been elected 13 times during his nearly four decades in politics and had his first win at age 27 as a member of the LDP.

Having learned the political basics from the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, Ozawa left the LDP in 1993 and was a key player when Morihiro Hosokawa, leader of the now-defunct Japan New Party, became prime minister of the only non-LDP Cabinet since 1955.

Since then, Ozawa created Shinshinto and the Liberal Party, which merged with the DPJ in 2003.

His public image was darkened by the nickname “kowashiya” (destroyer), given to him by the media for his history of breaking up parties, and he has been portrayed as a behind-the-scenes player.

But he has a softer image now, after apparently trying to portray a more casual side. In a recently published book, for instance, he answered such questions as “When was your first date?” and “Who’s your lifetime rival?”