Tokyo Notes

Kan Must Grasp Ozawa Nettle

Recent Features

Tokyo Notes

Kan Must Grasp Ozawa Nettle

If Naoto Kan wants to show he’s in control of the DPJ, he first needs to show he’s in control of Ozawa.

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and ruling party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa reportedly met Wednesday night and agreed that something must be done about the gridlock in Japan’s parliament. Accompanying them for their sushi dinner in a Tokyo restaurant were Hatoyama’s younger brother, now an independent, and former great hope of the Liberal Democratic Party Yoichi Masuzoe, who leads the tiny New Renaissance Party.

Just what action they have in mind isn’t clear, but it seems likely that some meddling behind closed doors is about to take place. This could spell trouble for Prime Minister Naoto Kan if he doesn’t take quick action to quell unrest in his party.

According to Thursday’s edition of the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest dailies, Ozawa had already spent Tuesday night telling members of his group in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan that they should call a general meeting of the party’s Diet members before the end of the year if the DPJ fares poorly in Sunday’s prefectural assembly election in Ibaraki.

One of the possible aims of such a meeting would be to call for a cabinet reshuffle in which chief government spokesman and Ozawa foe Yoshito Sengoku gets replaced and some Ozawa supporters get brought in, putting an end to the anti-Ozawa path forged by Kan’s administration.

A flexing of muscles by Ozawa supporters might also give party members second thoughts about supporting the idea of a lower house ethics committee vote on whether to have Ozawa explain a lingering funding scandal in the Diet, as is the apparent hope of DPJ General Secretary Katsuya Okada.

Since his handsome victory against Ozawa in the DPJ leadership election in September, Kan has been giving Ozawa a wide berth. At the same time, he also seems to have been avoiding the issue of what action to take regarding the funding scandal surrounding Ozawa that refuses to go away. Kan should already have insisted that Ozawa speak in the Diet about the scandal and show that the party really is under his control.

Public support for his administration will continue to wane if the DPJ continues to flounder in the next Diet session. But how can anyone have faith in Kan showing leadership in the next parliamentary session when he doesn’t even look to be in total control of his own party?

So Kan and Okada should work on getting that committee vote to go ahead. Showing that he can get Ozawa to explain himself in the Diet is one way Kan can shore up his control of the party and put an end, at least for the time being, to the plunging support for his government.

He needs to show he can make difficult decisions and implement them. If he doesn’t start doing that, we may soon find out what Ozawa, Hatoyama and pals have in mind.