The Democratic Party of Japan has formed a new executive team and a new shadow Cabinet, but one man of great influence is conspicuously absent: Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, the former acting president. His refusal to take up any post, apparently reflecting an ongoing dispute with the party president, Mr. Katsuya Okada, over defense and security policy, casts a shadow over the future of the largest opposition party.
Mr. Okada, who led the party to success in July’s Upper House election, was formally re-elected unopposed at a special convention on Monday. Mr. Tatsuo Kawabata, the former Diet affairs chief, took up the No. 2 post of secretary general, succeeding Mr. Hirohisa Fujii, Mr. Ozawa’s right-hand man. The “next Cabinet,” which maintains a balance of factional power, includes two former presidents, Mr. Naoto Kan and Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, as well as Mr. Takahiro Yokomichi, formerly a key member of the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party.
Still, the new lineup without Mr. Ozawa raises questions about whether the DPJ will be able to put its divided house in order and develop a coherent policy agenda. Although the party’s dramatic gains in the July election have improved the prospects for a two-party system, it has yet to map out a well-calibrated strategy for taking over the reins of government from the coalition of Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
The big question is whether the Democrats will be able to beat the Liberal Democrats during Mr. Okada’s two-year term. As things now stand, though, that does not seem very likely. The reason is that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will not call a snap general election unless some unforeseen political crisis forces him to dissolve the House of Representatives (Lower House). Still, Mr. Okada’s DPJ can use the next two years to refine its policy program and expand its electoral base in the countryside.
The starting point should be his “2015 Vision for the Revival of Japan,” which spells out basic policies in key areas such as foreign and security affairs, social security and economic management. Regarding security policy, Mr. Okada calls for more active participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, setting his sights on an eventual constitutional amendment. He risks reducing the DPJ’s appeal to voters, however, if he tries to bring his party much closer to the LDP.
One important reason the LDP suffered a defeat in July is that many voters were wary of Mr. Koizumi’s heavy “tilt” toward the Japan-U.S. alliance, particularly of his solid endorsement of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and Japan’s subsequent troop deployment in that country. Many were also critical of his flawed pension-reform plan, which lacked long-term vision.
The test for Mr. Okada is to bring his party into line over divisive issues, particularly foreign and security policy, and constitutional revision. As for pension reform, the party is calling for the creation of an integrated pension system. The question is how to cover the growing fund shortage. The DPJ is proposing a raise in the consumption tax, which seems inevitable. The harder part is to convince a public wary of rising social security costs.
In the style of politics, too, the DPJ should set itself apart from the LDP. Under Mr. Koizumi the LDP has broken the back of “pork-barrel” politics, as seen in the rollback of public-works spending, but money politics remains a potent force, as shown by recent revelations about an illicit campaign donation from a dentist group. The DPJ discloses its campaign finances on its Web site. In a further move to enhance transparency in politics, Mr. Okada has revealed all of his public-expense accounts.
The DPJ plans to field its candidates in all of the 300 single-seat districts in the next general election. That shows Mr. Okada’s resolve to win a majority in the Lower House. But if the ballot is not held during his term, he may have difficulty keeping his party together. A number of younger Democrats may challenge him in a presidential race two years from now. Mr. Kan and Mr. Hatoyama — now foreign minister and land minister, respectively, in the shadow Cabinet — may well try a comeback.
The biggest uncertainty for Mr. Okada, however, is the friction with Mr. Ozawa, who is arguably the most powerful of his potential rivals. The refusal by Mr. Fujii to stay on as secretary general seems to mirror Mr. Ozawa’s desire to keep a distance from Mr. Okada. Mr. Ozawa himself rejected an offer to head the party’s election-campaign headquarters.
Mr. Ozawa advocates a more positive approach to collective security than Mr. Okada. The difference should be ironed out through open discussion. If Mr. Ozawa stays on the sidelines as a kibitzer, that will not be the best way for him to serve the party’s interests. As Mr. Okada points out, the DPJ must play like an all-star baseball team in order to take power.
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