With Prime Minister Naoto Kan under fire over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s poor showing in last month’s upper house election, attention has turned to whether party kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa will try to reclaim his crown in the leadership election on September 14, or whether he’ll back another candidate.
While no one has formally thrown their hat into the ring, senior DPJ member Banri Kaieda last week reportedly told a lawmaker close to Ozawa that he plans to stand in the poll that will essentially choose the prime minister.
Kaieda, a fifth-term lower house member, is said to get on well with Ozawa. But will the former DPJ secretary general publicly support him as a candidate to evict the increasingly unpopular Kan?
Ozawa has been conspicuous by his silence since being ousted from the party’s No.2 role when Yukio Hatoyama resigned as prime minister in early June. With Kan also keeping Ozawa at arms length, the ‘shadow shogun’ seems to be plotting his next move. He has been spotted travelling the country, meeting with some of the nation’s movers and shakers.
But if Ozawa were to back Kaieda, and Hatoyama’s group of DPJ lawmakers (of which Kaieda is a member) were persuaded to throw their weight behind him, Kan would face a serious challenge from this relative unknown.
So what do we know about this potential opponent?
Kaieda, 61, was first elected to his Tokyo No. 1 constituency as a member of the defunct left-leaning Japan New Party in 1993. Prior to entering politics, he was an economic analyst and has penned numerous books on personal finance and taxation.
His father, a journalist, is said to have named him after the Great Wall of China (‘Banri’ being the first part of the Japanese name for the barricade). His Chinese connection doesn’t end there. He’s a scholar of Chinese poetry and has published anthologies of his favourite verses. He also used to sit on the editorial board of the socialist ‘Gendai no Riron’ weekly, and is known to be a political liberal.
While Kaieda is now said to be close to Ozawa (his office is on the same floor as Ozawa allies in the new office building for Diet members, as opposed to being on the fourth floor with other members of the Hatoyama grouping), they weren’t always the best of friends. Indeed, his criticism of Ozawa reached a peak with his penning of the book ‘Boku ga Ozawa Seiji wo Kirai na Honto no Riyu,’ which can be translated as ‘The real reason why I hate Ozawa’s politics.’
But now that they’ve apparently kissed and made up, what is Ozawa’s plan for seizing control of the party? Will he pull the strings of a leadership bid by Kaieda or another candidate, or will he stand himself?
A major problem for Ozawa is that he can’t seem to shake off allegations of a funding scandal, and this may convince DPJ lawmakers, local assembly members and general party members to stick with the status quo of Kan.
Moreover, the public just doesn’t seem ready for the embarrassment of having yet another new prime minister. Despite a Mainichi Shimbun poll late last month showing Kan’s approval rating falling to 41 percent (from 66 percent when he entered office), 80 percent of respondents said that he should stay in office.
So perhaps Ozawa might be wise to keep schtum and stay in the background. That said, when he’s quiet, you know he’s usually up to something.