As the odds grow that the No. 1 opposition Democratic Party of Japan will take the reigns of government after the next general elections, the focus in the Japanese political arena is shifting to the lineup of a Cabinet headed by DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, and to who would succeed him if he retired early for health reasons.

Although Prime Minister Taro Aso has apparently decided not to dissolve the Lower House anytime soon, many insiders believe that his repeated verbal lapses and the discord within his Liberal Democratic Party make it extremely difficult for the LDP to maintain a parliamentary majority even if Aso keeps putting off general elections until the current tenure of lawmakers expires next September.

LDP legislators are split over how to review the privatization of the postal services and other issues. Moreover, Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, is disgusted because Aso has turned down its request for early general elections. These and other factors have led one senior LDP leader to lament there is a 99 percent chance of the birth of a DPJ-led government sometime in 2009.

If the DPJ wins a majority in the Lower House election, Ozawa as its leader would be the natural choice to be named prime minister. The question, though, is whether his health would hold. He has a chronic heart disease and is under strict orders from his physicians to rest after lunch. This would make it strenuous for him to attend deliberations of the all-important Budget Committee in both chambers of the Diet, which normally meets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Even one of his supporters has confided that Ozawa would probably would not be able to remain in his post for more than three to six months.

After winning in the Upper House election in the summer of last year, the DPJ formed a “shadow Cabinet.” There is no guarantee, however, that the current lineup will be maintained after the next election. Indeed, Ozawa is said to be aiming for a big surprise by announcing new members of the shadow Cabinet right after the Lower House is dissolved.

Three people from outside of the political world are regarded as likely to be given Cabinet posts under Ozawa: • Jituro Terashima, chairman of the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute. • Kiyoshi Sasamori, former chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation. • Eisuke Sakakibara, a former Finance Ministry official who has played an important role in drafting the DPJ’s election campaign manifesto.

The main issue is how Ozawa will treat his three top lieutenants: Naoto Kan, Yukio Hatoyama and Katsuya Okada. And will any one of them be picked as deputy prime minister and thus regarded as the “heir apparent”? A group of DPJ lawmakers have long hoped that Okada would succeed Ozawa, but that appears to be a long shot because the two do not share the same political ideologies.

In a recent magazine article titled “I Am Different From Mr. Ozawa,” Okada distanced himself from Ozawa concerning revenue sources for policy measures and other matters. A ranking party official said Ozawa is suspicious that the political agenda he has built up so far might be destroyed by Okada.

Another veteran lawmaker has described Okada as so loyal to his boss that there is little or no possibility of his turning against Ozawa. The likely post that Okada would be given in an Ozawa administration is probably that of chief Cabinet secretary, the prime minister’s right-hand man and government spokesman.

As for Kan, who lost to Ozawa in the 2006 party leadership contest, he has refrained from joining intraparty groups critical of Ozawa and has remained quiet in the apparent hope that Ozawa will “peacefully abdicate” his post to him. But a well-informed source counters that Ozawa does not fully trust Kan, whose political career is traced to the more leftist-leaning and now-defunct Social Democratic Federation.

As if to prove the point, Ozawa chose party secretary general Hatoyama, rather than shadow Cabinet deputy premier Kan, to represent him at a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Oct. 23, when ill health prevented Ozawa from greeting the visitor in person.

Nevertheless, Ozawa’s close aides seem to rule out the possibility of Hatoyama assuming the No. 2 position in an Ozawa administration. The reason is that once Hatoyama is given the position of deputy prime minister, they say, supporters of Kan and Okada will start maneuvering against him, and Ozawa doesn’t want a power struggle within the party. The probable scenario, according to these aides, is that Ozawa will keep Hatoyama as party secretary general and have him compete against Kan in the race for the party’s leadership.

If the DPJ wins in the next general elections, Ozawa is expected to strengthen his political foundation not only by forming an alliance with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party but also by inviting in LDP heavyweights unhappy with Prime Minister Aso, such as former LDP secretary general Koichi Kato and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, who was thrown out of the LDP for opposing the postal privatization.

Aso and his supporters fear that Ozawa will do everything possible to weaken or destroy the LDP so as not to repeat the failures of 15 years ago when Morihiro Hosokawa was made prime minister.

Since DPJ leaders admit that Ozawa does not generally consult close associates when making important appointments, it is impossible to know what surprise card he has up his sleeve.

Here is the likely makeup of an Ozawa Cabinet: Prime Minister Ichiro Ozawa; Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsuya Okada; Minister Without Portfolio Yukio Hatoyama; Internal Affairs Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu; Justice Minister Tatsuo Kawabata; Foreign Minister Koichi Kato, who will probably have left the LDP by then; Finance Minister Eisuke Sakakibara, a nonpolitician; Education and Science Minister Takeo Hiranuma, an independent; Welfare-Labor Minister Akira Nagatsuma; Trade and Industry Minister Shizuka Kamei of the People’s New Party; Land-Transport Minister Kiyoshi Sasamori, a nonpolitician; Environment Minister Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party; Defense Minister Yoshihiko Noda; Public Safety Commission Chairman Masayuki Naoshima; Minister in Charge of Administrative Reform Naoto Kan; Minister in Charge of Economic and Fiscal Affairs Jituro Terashima, a nonpolitician; and Minister in Charge of Local Autonomy Yasuo Tanaka of the New Party Nippon.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the December issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.

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