Tokyo Notes

Do the Right Thing

An Ozawa critic seems to call, timidly, for the ruling party kingpin to step down.

One of the main critics of Democratic Party of Japan super heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa again called on him to ‘take the best course of action’ yesterday, apparently implying he should step down, but without going beyond what he has said before.

Yukio Edano, government revitalization minister, made the comment during a press conference I attended at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, where he was talking about the second round of the administration’s project review process. The DPJ, having promised to uncover 3 trillion yen in wasteful spending, launched its first round of televised project reviews in November. For the viewing public, the sight of bureaucrats wriggling on the spit of live TV made the process something of a popular political reality show, even if the results only clawed back a relatively paltry 700 billion yen.

Now it’s time for Round 2 as the government looks to trim wasteful spending from independent administrative agencies and government-linked public service bodies. Edano stressed the government was not simply looking to cut spending, but to establish a new set of priorities in its bid to focus money on people rather than more concrete infrastructure in a greying and shrinking society. He lauded the achievements of Round 1, whose success he put down to its detailed nature, its openness to the public and to its making of on-the-spot decisions. He said the public was now more keenly aware of whether tax money was being spent wisely.

Inevitably, though, Edano was asked to comment on Ozawa and while he admitted that they had ‘many different opinions’ on policy issues, he said that on the fundamental belief that Japan crucially needs a major power change they were in very close agreement. He also said there was no one obvious measure that could be taken to boost support for the DPJ before the summer’s upper house elections. In other words, Ozawa’s stepping down before the poll would not suddenly return the DPJ to its heady heights of popularity last autumn.

‘As [Ozawa is] the person in our party who bears the most responsibility for the upcoming elections, I believe in my heart that Mr. Ozawa will take the best [course of] action at the best possible time,’ he said.

This is as close as he could go to calling for Ozawa to resign while leaving himself wiggle room to deny it. At the very least it made clear that Ozawa would have no choice but to step down if he stayed on in his position and the DPJ fared badly in the poll.