The Democratic Party of Japan leadership Tuesday endorsed the unanimous decision earlier in the day by the party’s six-member ethics panel to suspend the party membership of former party chief Ichiro Ozawa over his indictment in a funds reporting scandal.
Mr. Ozawa could have avoided this humiliation as well as confusion in the party and Japanese politics if he had spoken early enough about his case in the Diet. Despite the disciplinary measure, he should seriously consider making efforts on his own to clear suspicions about him.
The suspension of party membership is the lightest of disciplinary steps the DPJ can take against members who have behaved improperly. Usually the period of suspension lasts a maximum six months. But Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other anti-Ozawa party leaders chose to suspend Mr. Ozawa from the membership until his trial’s ruling is finalized. He will not be allowed to attend formal party functions and cannot run in a party election to pick a party leader. The DPJ may not put him on the party ticket in elections. This is a harsh treatment of a politician who made the biggest contribution to bringing the DPJ to power.
Mr. Kan and his supporters made the decision against Mr. Ozawa, apparently thinking that meting out harsh treatment to him will boost the approval rating of the Kan Cabinet, which has dropped below 20 percent, and help Mr. Kan steer through the political difficulties he faces. But their action will further deepen the division within the party, thus weakening the DPJ vis-a-vis the opposition forces.
They also failed to uphold the principle of presumption of innocence concerning Mr. Ozawa. In addition, his case is not bribery. Public prosecutors had decided twice not to indict him. His indictment was not an ordinary indictment but due to a decision by a citizens’ legal panel.
Even so Mr. Ozawa must act responsibly as a politician. He should persuade 16 DPJ Lower House members who have revolted against the party leadership not to take a rash action in Diet voting that will wreck the DPJ as a ruling party.