Tokyo Notes

DPJ Mediation Fails

A last-ditch attempt to stop Ichiro Ozawa running for the DPJ leadership fails.

And so the drama continues. A last minute attempt to avoid potential disaster for the Democratic Party of Japan has failed to put an end to Ichiro Ozawa’s bid to become prime minister of Japan.

As if following the script of a TV melodrama, former premier Yukio Hatoyama finally managed to get Ozawa to talk with Prime Minister Naoto Kan today for the first time since the DPJ’s humiliating defeat in the upper house election. But as many a telly addict would have predicted, this last tantalizing ray of hope was only to be quickly dashed.

Little more than half an hour after the talks began, Ozawa was already starting to speak at a press conference in which he would eventually clarify, after a seemingly interminable build-up, that he was standing in the DPJ presidential election after all.

Both Ozawa and later Kan essentially said that they had agreed in the talks to fight a fair and square battle and that they would shake hands afterward and seek to restore unity in the party, a sign that the failed candidate might still end up with a senior post perhaps?

Unity of the party was apparently the prime concern of DPJ founder Hatoyama as he busied himself trying to bring the two together over recent days. This is curious considering that he was the one who suddenly switched his backing to Ozawa last week, a factor that must surely have influenced Ozawa’s decision to run. In the process, Hatoyama strengthened his image as a shameless flip-flopper and the reason he gave for it was flimsy indeed: He had been the one who invited Ozawa and his Liberal Party to merge with the DPJ back in 2003.

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Still, Hatoyama did manage to get the two to meet and even had Kan referring to the great troika that brought the DPJ to power, namely Hatoyama, Kan and Ozawa. It almost sounded like ‘let’s go back to the good old days when we all friends and hadn’t messed up our first year in power.’

The troika comments made last night, were interpreted by many to mean Kan had given ground on his anti-Ozawa stance and was now perhaps willing to offer him a big post or even a cabinet reshuffle if he gave up his leadership bid.

But Ozawa didn’t take the bait. It's surprising, though, that Kan could consider returning to a troika in which Ozawa’s shadow looms large. Either he is worried about the party breaking up or he’s not entirely confident he’s going to win…

The election campaign starts tomorrow.