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The Democratic Party of Japan — which has plunged into a crisis following the resignation of its young leader Seiji Maehara over a bogus e-mail fiasco — chose Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, a heavyweight veteran politician, as its new leader. As leader of the No. 1 opposition party, the tasks facing Mr. Ozawa are clear. He must present to the public a grand vision for building the future of Japan — one that is clearly distinguishable from the policy of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government. He must also steer the party to victory in next year’s Upper House election to gain a foothold in his quest to wrest power from the Liberal Democratic Party. In fact, in one of his speeches before the party’s leadership election, Mr. Ozawa said, “Believing that government change is the real structural reform, I will stake my political life on breaking the deadlock (the party is facing).” But to achieve those objectives, he must first heal any schisms caused by the leadership election and unite the party — a task that won’t be easy.

Mr. Ozawa won by a large margin, netting 119 votes compared to the 72 cast for his opponent, Mr. Naoto Kan, a co-founder of the DPJ who has already led the party twice. Mr. Ozawa has honed his political skills as both a member of the ruling party and the opposition since he became a lawmaker in 1969 at the age of 27. When 43-year-old Mr. Maehara was leading the DPJ, his mismanagement was often attributed to his youth and lack of political experience. The 63-year-old Mr. Ozawa’s long and rich political experience — particularly his skill in devising vote-gaining strategies — will be a strong asset for the party in its push to take power. The first test of Mr. Ozawa’s leadership will be the April 23 Lower House by-election in the Chiba No. 7 constituency.

Mr. Ozawa started his political career in the LDP. As a member of a dominant faction, he served as party secretary general, the No. 2 position, from 1989 to 1991. But he bolted from the LDP in June 1993 and formed the Shinseito party. In August 1993, he was instrumental in forming a non-LDP government led by Mr. Morihiro Hosokawa. After the Hosokawa government collapsed in June 1994, he formed and then dissolved the Shinshinto party. He then established the Liberal Party in January 1998. This small party formed a coalition with the LDP from January 1999 to April 2000. Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Kan engineered a merger of the Liberal Party and the DPJ in September 2003.

His aggressive political style has earned Mr. Ozawa a reputation for being both a “breaker” and “high-handed.” It is vital that Mr. Ozawa overcome this image and bring harmony to the DPJ, particularly as the party, composed of politicians from across a broad ideological spectrum, is susceptible to internal strife. Politicians such as Mr. Maehara call for a constitutional revision to allow the exercise of collective defense on a limited scale, while former members of the Japan Socialist Party (the predecessor of the Social Democratic Party) are against revising the pacifist Constitution. Mr. Ozawa will need not only to establish a conciliatory party management style but also work out policies on security and international cooperation policy under which the party’s members can unify. Mr. Ozawa has been proposing that a special unit of troops, separate from the Self-Defense Forces, be established to engage in U.N. peacekeeping activities.

Mr. Maehara, who inherited a party weakened by its devastating defeat in the Sept. 11 general elections, pursued a policy of presenting detailed and concrete counterproposals for each important legislation proposed by the government. But this time-consuming approach sapped the party’s energy and blunted its claws. Under this approach the DPJ failed to fiercely attack the government’s problematic policy proposals, and thus did not clearly demonstrate how its policies differed from those of Mr. Koizumi. Mr. Maehara’s mishandling of the bogus e-mail affair further weakened the DPJ.

The DPJ under Mr. Ozawa must make the public understand the differences between its policies and those of the LDP-led coalition government on both domestic and foreign issues. In an apparent reference to the widening of the economic gap between the nation’s haves and have-nots under Mr. Koizumi’s leadership, Mr. Ozawa said in a speech before the party election that a society must be built in which people who live and work honestly and diligently are rewarded. He should express such a philosophy in a slogan that can give hope to the public about the future of Japan, one that will match the force of Mr. Koizumi’s favorite catchword, “kaikaku (reform).”

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