As a representative of the new generation, I want to bring a new wind to the Diet, which has become aged and is suffering from hardening of the arteries. I want to become a respected politician worthy of comparison to my father Saeki, and fulfill the expectations of my supporters. The 70s in Japan is the age of our “youth power”. That alone gives me a keen sense of the weight of my responsibility. I want to forge ahead in the future, with my youth and rectitude that admits of no political chicanery as my calling card.
- Ozawa Ichiro, on his first election to the Diet, 27 December 1969
EVERYONE WHO FOLLOWS Japanese politics assumed that Ozawa Ichiro would remain the man with the muscle in the Democratic Party of Japan when he and Hatoyama Yukio traded jobs last spring as their solution for taking responsibility for the former’s fund-raising scandals.
After all, he called the shots in the Hosokawa Morihiro administration of the early 90s, the first non-LDP government in nearly 40 years, and the Kaifu Toshiki administration, an LDP government when Mr. Ozawa was the party’s secretary-general.
That’s why no one was surprised when a reporter asked who wore the pants in the DPJ family at Hatoyama Yukio’s 14 May 2009 news conference to announce his candidacy for the party presidency. Mr. Hatoyama answered:
I do not intend in the slightest to be referred to as the Ozawa puppet administration. Rather, I want to create the type of government in which I fulfill a major role, and in which the “Hatoyama color” figures prominently.
Here’s a rule about as hard and fast as they come: When a politician has to tell people he’s in charge, he isn’t. Rather than bearing out Mr. Hatoyama’s confidence, subsequent events have only confirmed the doubts of his questioners.
Everyone also assumed that Mr. Ozawa would get into trouble soon rather than late with his my-way-or-the-highway philosophy of conducting business. Current Finance Minister Kan Naoto went so far two years ago as to urge party members to put aside their dislike of “a certain person” for the sake of party unity and to take control of government. When so many people in a position to know describe someone as a dictator for so many years, it’s a safe bet that he’s not a hands-off administrator.
Those assumptions turned out to be right. Since the DPJ government took charge in September, Ozawa Ichiro has forbidden DPJ Diet members to participate in multiparty diet groups, forbidden members of the bureaucracy to appear at press conferences, and centralized local government requests of the national government to come through one office—his own as party secretary-general. He’s an equal opportunity irritant—he managed to anger both cultural conservatives and the Japan Communist Party over an issue involving the Tenno (emperor). Anyone who’s strolled by any newsstand in a Japanese bookstore over the past six months will have seen on any given day at least one, and usually more, articles by people comparing him to Hitler, Stalin, or Kim Jong-il—and that’s before you get to the ones written by the hardline polemicists.
Tempers flared again this month when he decided to sack a subordinate—whom he appointed—for criticizing him in public. The situation grew so intense that analysts at Japanese investment houses have now started to factor into their decisions what one referred to as “political risk”—the possibility that the Democratic Party will disintegrate while still in power.
Here’s what dictatorship looks like in a modern democracy.
Ozawa Ichiro is frightening
The weekly Shukan Gendai published a roundtable discussion with four anonymous DPJ Diet members in their 23 January issue. The headline read: Help! Mr. Ozawa is Frightening!
The magazine assembled 10 members who agreed to participate on the condition of anonymity, but six backed out at the last minute. They weren’t willing to take even that risk. One told the magazine, “If we make a slip, we could be liquidated by the Ozawa Corps.” Here’s some of what they said in English. Note the second comment by Mr. A.
Q: Is the climate in the DPJ that bad now?
A: To be frank, the DPJ has become stifling for everyone other than Ozawa associates.
B: (The Ozawa group visit to China last December) had a dictatorial structure like the Communist Party. There is a dread that if you publicly criticize Ozawa, you might no longer be able to remain in the party.
A: Some are even saying it would be best if we lost more seats in the upper house election this July.
Q: Who in the world is saying that?
A: I can’t mention any names. But I can say that subject came up at the end of the year between the “seven bugyo”. “If we win big in the upper house, no one will be able to stop him.”
C: Those people exist. Particularly members who formerly had senior positions but were shut out after we won the lower house election.
Sidebar: The seven bugyo, or magistrates, is a term used to describe a group put together by Watanabe Kozo, a former party senior advisor and Ozawa associate. The idea was to develop the next generation of leaders. While they do not share the same political philosophy, all are considered to be anti-Ozawa to some degree. They are Okada Katsuya, Foreign Minister; Maehara Seiji, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport; Sengoku Yoshito, National Strategy Minister; Noda Yoshihiko, Deputy Finance Minister; Edano Yukio, Governmental Reform Minister; Genba Koichiro; and Tarutoku Shinji.
Q: We hear that new members are on a tight leash and under a lot of stress.
D: At the end of last year, a set of 50 handbills was suddenly delivered to the new members. Their title was Ozawaism, and he wrote them for publicity. It came with this notation: special price, JPY 20,000 (about $US 220). There was no overt pressure to buy them, but everyone was worried they’d be ostracized if they didn’t, and that their loyalty would be tested by how many they bought. Most wound up buying them.
A. Members can’t even select their own aides. One MP wanted to hire a former LDP staffer as a policy aide, but Yamaoka Kenji (the Ozawa enforcer) put a stop to it because he might have been an “LDP spy”.
B: There’s even a system of informers. Talk to the media, and someone will inform Yamaoka that so-and-so talked to a certain media company. Even if a relative is a reporter, you can’t meet them in the Diet members’ office building.
Q: So that’s why the number of participants (in this discussion) declined so suddenly.
D: Talking to a weekly magazine is out of the question. If it were known that I was here now, I’d be put on an anti-Ozawa blacklist immediately. That’s especially true for the proportional representatives. If they thought you were a rebellious member, they’d put you on the bottom of the list at the next election, guaranteeing your loss.
(Talking about a New Year’s Party at the Ozawa home)
D: One member summoned the brute courage to ask Ozawa, “Do you feel like becoming prime minister?” He answered, “I have no reason to reject that. But I have other things to do first.”
A: Yamaoka said, “Be careful of the mass media. They supported the DPJ before the election, but now they’re bashing Hatoyama. I’ve even been compared to the Gestapo. You can’t depend on the news reports at all.” But the Gestapo part wasn’t meant as a joke, and nobody laughed.
Q: Why hasn’t an anti-Ozawa movement arisen?
A: Ah…that’s not possible.
C: Not possible…I think. There aren’t any MPs who like him. He just uses people and then disposes of them. (Explanation of bestowing favor on lower-ranking party officials). He lifts them up, and if they acquire any more power than is necessary, he crushes them.
A: Even the ministers can’t say anything.
C: They understand very well that were it not for Mr. Ozawa, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything at all.
A: They know they can’t count on Prime Minister Hatoyama or the other senior leaders. Even if they hate Mr. Ozawa, they know they wouldn’t have a government without him, and they couldn’t win an election without him.
C: At any rate, that’s the reality. Regardless of whether he becomes prime minister, if we win the upper house election, there is no question the country will turn into the Ozawa Japanese Empire. Would we be able to stay in the DPJ if that happened? We’d be driven out by Mr. Ozawa, and the only place left for us to go would be Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party.
There has been extensive internal debate within the party about the possibility of submitting a bill to allow non-citizens with permanent residence visas to participate in local elections. Such a measure would be inherently controversial anywhere, and one publication estimated that about 50 of the DPJ MPs were opposed, even before their ranks swelled with last year’s election. That’s why the pledge to introduce such legislation was not included in the party’s election platform.
Mr. Ozawa and some others are anxious for it to happen, but opposition internally and from junior coalition partner Kamei Shizuka and the People’s New Party has so far prevented the introduction of a bill as a government proposal. The DPJ Secretary-General is frustrated with party members who won’t fall into line. He told them in a speech:
“Isn’t it the usual thing to agree to proposals that your own government has submitted?”
Dictating terms to the prime minister
When the Hatoyama Cabinet was putting together a budget last year, Mr. Ozawa became angered at some of their decisions, as well as their inability to make other decisions. He made his views known to the prime minister. Some of those views, such as the retention of the gasoline surtax in a different form, violated the party’s election platform. Mr. Hatoyama gave in to all the Ozawa demands save for the one about imposing income limits for the eligibility to receive the child support allowance.
When Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi was asked why the prime minister caved to Mr. Ozawa, he answered,
Rather than party requests, these were the peoples’ requests.
That should answer any question about the hue of the Hatoyama Color.
Having his cake and eating it too
Despite dictating policy to the government, Mr. Ozawa is less interested in taking responsibility for those policies or the perceptions about his control.
Asked at a news conference that same month about the falling support in polls for the Hatoyama administration, he said:
Ask the Cabinet about their support rate or whatever. It’s not my place to give an answer.
General Secretary Ozawa
Observed Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, who has also served as secretary-general of that party:
The DPJ has no process for forming a democratic consensus to change campaign promises. The LDP has a mechanism for input from the Diet members. Discussion moves from the Policy Research Council to the General Council to determine policy. Mr. Ozawa abolished the Policy Research Council, and they have no General Council. Decisions are made by the Secretary-General’s office (i.e., him). This resembles the Politburo of the old Soviet bloc.
To be fair, some claim the Policy Research Council was hijacked by the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy to influence policy decisions. Then again, the LDP hasn’t had a dictator since Ozawa Ichiro left the party.
Obedience school, part two
Last December Mr. Ozawa led a large delegation of DPJ MPs and others on one of his periodic trips to China. It is well known that he is a Sinophile, and during this visit he met with President Hu Jintao. Yamaoka Kenji declared that he and the Chinese leader “confirmed” the new government’s intention to create an “equilateral triangle” in diplomatic relations by giving equal weight to China and the United States.
The Hatoyama administration wanted the Tenno to meet visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping one week after the Ozawa group returned. It was immediately assumed that was the Japanese end of a quid pro quo. A past government established a rule requiring one month’s advance notice for such meetings, but Mr. Hatoyama pressed for an exception.
Haketa Shingo, the Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, told a news conference that the prime minister pushed the palace to arrange the meeting. The agency turned them down, but finally gave in after the government turned up the pressure.
Said Mr. Haketa:
I really felt awkward. I hope I never have to see this sort of thing repeated again.
He added there was no reason to make an exception to the rule. Mr. Xi is not the Chinese head of state, and the whole affair smacked of turning the Tenno into a pawn for DPJ political ends.
The emperor’s role is different from the diplomacy of a country. If you are asking the emperor to play a role to deal with a pending issue between countries, that’s not the emperor’s expected role under the current constitution.
This was an explosive issue for two reasons. First, denials that the DPJ wanted to arrange the meeting for political purposes are implausible. Everyone assumes they wanted to trot out the man to please the Chinese. It’s also likely they wanted to demonstrate their own power—they’ve developed a taste for that sort of display.
Second, political leaders used the Tenno as political pawns for their own ends after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. That road led to the Second World War, and no one in Japan wants to go down that road a second time.
The U.S.-ghostwritten Constitution severely limits the Tenno’s role to prevent any political ramifications of his presence at all. He is a figurehead who seldom speaks in public, and whatever he does say in public is innocuous. The Imperial Household Agency sets his schedule and the Cabinet approves all his overseas trips.
Some people like to think of the old LDP as a nest of diehard Shinto Tenno-worshippers, but even they bent over backwards to avoid any controversy during their rule. Said one former LDP executive:
The ceremony opening the current prime minister’s residence was held in the spring of 2002. Some thought it would be a good idea to invite the Tenno, but that didn’t get very far because it was thought he shouldn’t be invited to the seat of political authority. That’s how much we carefully avoided the political use of the Tenno. The current controversy reveals the amateurishness of the DPJ as the ruling party.
Finally, the Tenno is a cancer survivor and turned 76 a fortnight after the meeting. Prime Minister Hatoyama tried to justify himself:
China is the world’s most populous country and is a neighboring country. Relations with such a nation are very important. This was not a decision for political use. Naturally, the health of the emperor is most important, but this request was made under the condition he was able to do so.
Of course that’s a weak excuse, especially considering the amount of pressure that was applied, but no one thought for a second either the idea of a meeting itself, or the insistence that it be held, originated with Mr. Hatoyama. For his part, Ozawa Ichiro denied that he had anything to do with it.
For someone who claims not to have been involved with the request, he sure spit the dummy over Mr. Haketa’s objections. He was more upset than the prime mnister.
It’s not the business of one bureaucrat to hold a press conference and talk about a Cabinet decision. If he’s going to say something, he should say it after he quits.
If he’s that opposed, he should submit his resignation and then talk about it. That’s just natural. He’s a government official.
And, to up the ante after Mr. Haketa wouldn’t back down or resign:
That’s the guy you have to wonder about. He’s just using the Tenno’s prestige for a cover.
“The guy” in this case was aitsu in Japanese, a rough word that is insulting in this context.
He angrily asserted that the Cabinet had a right to insist on a meeting because it was a matter of state business, the Cabinet had supreme authority to make these decisions, and that opponents should read the Japanese Constitution carefully.
Responded Shii Kazuo, the head of the Japanese Communist Party:
Mr. Ozawa said, “read the Japanese Constitution carefully”, but when you read it, you see that affairs of state are defined rather strictly. Meeting foreign dignitaries is not included. It is a public act apart from an affair of state. The Japanese Constitution states that those acts must not have a political nature. Mr. Ozawa is the one who should read the Japanese Constitution carefully.
Lost in the controversy, by the way, is that Mr. Haketa is something of a liberal in matters related to Japan’s Imperial house. He was appointed by Koizumi Jun’ichiro, and shares the former prime minister’s belief that women should be allowed to ascend the throne.
Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin?
The overseas media tried to depict it as a Hatoyama decision, but that’s not how the Japanese media saw it. The incident prompted the monthly Bungei Shunju to publish a criticism of Ozawa Ichiro’s behavior in their February 2010 issue. It was written by Kyoto University Prof. Nakanishi Terumasa, and here’s an excerpt in English:
“The democracy that modern Japan has learned and that has taken root here does not resemble the “democracy” and “spirit of the Japanese constitution” that Mr. Ozawa talks about. I do not think that just winning an election provides a party with complete power…His view of democracy is similar to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “general will”, or the French Revolution that ended in the maelstrom of liquidation by guillotine. Or, in the 20th century, the totalitarian democracy or the democratic centralism of the postwar left whose pedigree is Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.
“His stated reason is that the people can choose the party they support, but once they’ve chosen them in an election, they have to give all authority to the party in power. In the end, the party official chosen by the Central Committee as a representative exercises dictatorial authority.
“When the DPJ won the election on 30 August, one of the MPs called it a “bloodless revolution”. I thought that was an exaggeration, but perhaps he was right. A party has taken power with a completely different understanding of the Japanese Constitution and democracy. That’s why it would be better to say it was the birth of a revolutionary government, rather than a change of government.
“Here’s how Mr. Ozawa views democracy: “We won the election, so all authority has been provided to the Cabinet created by the DPJ. Therefore I, who have the most power in the party, have been provided with all authority by the people. Therefore, my voice is the people’s voice.”
“That view of democracy colors not only diplomacy or policy about security, but every corner of politics conducted by the DPJ government.”
The “people’s voice”? Recall Hirano Hirofumi saying that Ozawa Ichiro’s demands of the Hatoyama administration were not the party’s requests, but the people’s requests.
One of the DPJ vice secretaries-general, Ubukata Yukio, gave an interview to the Sankei Shimbun on 17 March.
Mr. Ubukata was appointed to that position by Ozawa Ichiro. One reason for his selection was that he served in the same position in the now defunct Liberal Party when Ozawa Ichiro was party head and Fujii Hirohisa was secretary-general.
Unperson Ubukata Yukio
Sidebar 2: One source says that Ubukata had formerly acted as a liaison between Ozawa Ichiro and DPJ faction leader Yokomichi Takahiro. Mr. Yokomichi is a former member of the Socialist Party. When he was governor of Hokkaido, he refused to attend a funeral service for the Showa Tenno because he said it contributed to the systemic glorification of the emperor. He later attended the funeral of North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, despite not having received an invitation.
Here’s some of what Mr. Ubukata told the Sankei:
We criticized the LDP for its centralization of power…The party said it was going to carry out devolution of authority to local governments, but the DPJ’s operation is based on the centralization of power. One certain person in the DPJ today controls the power and the money.
The first thing that should happen is that Mr. Ozawa should properly explain (the funding scandals) at the proper place (i.e., the Diet). If this does not meet with the approval of the people, his only choice is to take it upon himself to think of resigning.
He also criticized the decision to eliminate the Policy Research Council. But for some people in the party, this was even worse:
(DPJ Diet members) mustn’t receive so much money from the Japan Teachers’ Union.
At least he wasn’t hauled before the firing squad and given a last cigarette before publicly criticizing the DPJ’s Dear Leader. He was instead summoned to the office of Takashima Yoshimitsu, the DPJ senior vice secretary-general, who told him to resign. Rather than quit, Mr. Ubukata asked whether Mr. Ozawa would take responsibility for the arrest of three of his aides for the political fund scandals.
Ozawa Ichiro then decided his subordinate should be fired, supposedly after listening to recommendations from others. The Nishinippon Shimbun reported that a mid-level DPJ Diet member said the MPs calling the loudest for his head were those affiliated with the Japan Teachers’ Union. Breaching party discipline is a serious matter on the left.
The DPJ itself is a coalition of convenience, but all of a sudden everything began to look very inconvenient. Hunting season officially opened.
Said Edano Yukio, one of the seven bugyo:
I am not aware of anything that Mr. Ubukata said recently that should be a problem.
Where is the part that means (Ozawa) has to resign right now? I don’t understand how that’s connected with the idea of replacing the vice secretary-general. This does not at all have a positive effect on the support rate for the party or the government.
What will happen to a DPJ led by a prime minister who can say nothing to Mr. Ozawa, whom many of the people think should step down?
Said Noda Yoshihiko, another one of the seven:
Forcing a person to resign who has said something painful to hear is extremely bad.
From Watanabe Kozo, the guru of the seven:
I’ve been a Diet member for 41 years, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting fired for criticizing a senior member. If there is an atmosphere in which people cannot speak freely, that will make for a gloomy party and cause problems.
Prime Minister Hatoyama managed his usual oatmeal explanation for firing Mr. Ubukata for…well, for telling the truth:
It’s too bad about Mr. Ubukata. There were many different opinions in the party, but that’s an excellent thing, because this is a democratic country. But he did not follow party rules by remaining silent within the party and saying various things outside the party. When you’re the vice secretary general, you should conduct those debates inside the party.
He continued to ramble:
I think the question of whether this squelches debate or not is a different level of discussion. I think it’s fine there are various, for example, criticisms of the party executives. But that’s something that should be done within the party. If you don’t say those things in the party at all, but tell them to the media, I wonder if that is ultimately a righteous discussion. I think Takashima made that sort of judgment in the course of that discussion…I think, at times like these, the important thing now is to act with unity as a party. And then, to meet the expectations of the people. It’s the most critical to have an approach of working hard together to achieve the policies, that’s what I think.
Kan Naoto, Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister, weighed in:
I think a free and lively debate is necessary, but at the same time, it’s also necessary that the party be firmly united.
He might have been more alarmed than he let on. At a meeting of his Kan group/faction, an “unidentified senior official” said:
The party must allow a free and lively exchange of opinion. The magma (of party dissatisfaction) is about to erupt.
The words used for “free and lively” in both cases were identical.
The DPJ’s coalition partners thought it was odd, too:
Kamei Shizuka of the PNP:
Don’t the people in my party criticize me all the time? If you’re going to fire someone every time that happens, you’ll run out of people to fire.
Fukushima Mizuho of the SDPJ:
In the SDPJ, we can express our opinions fairly freely. (The DPJ) should also guarantee free speech within the party.
As for the opposition LDP, former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko tweeted:
I thought I’d put these together:
Mainichi headline: North Korean official responsible for the failure of the redenomination of the won executed?
Mainichi headline: Secretary-General Ozawa: Vice Secretary General Ubukata Forced Out; denies demanding his resignation for criticism of senior party members
Said the prime minister’s brother, Hatoyama Kunio:
The DPJ has adopted the socialist party method of democratic centralism. It is a manifestation of their dictatorial nature that heads will roll when you criticize leadership. A dictatorship under Ozawa is frightening.
Finally, Eda Kenji of Your Party, the man who seems to make the most sense in Japanese political circles today, wrote on his blog:
Why has the Ozawa leadership behaved so clumsily? Even with the notification of the allocation of public works projects, the LDP did it all behind the scenes so people wouldn’t notice. They (the DPJ) did it brazenly in broad daylight.
Is this a result of being completely out of touch? They’re going out of their way to trumpet to the public just how bad the DPJ has become, that the iron-fisted rule of Ozawa has reached this point, that the subordinates who fear Ozawa don’t care how bad it looks?
This isn’t a problem for me to worry about. But as one person who had hopes for a new politics with the change of government, I can only lament the terrible change in the DPJ.
The judgment of financial markets in general, and the bond market in particular, is enough to bring even the most arrogant politico to heel, however, and that might have happened in the Ubukata affair.
Reuters Japan filed a story on 19 March that reviewed current market conditions and concerns that the Japanese stock market couldn’t sustain its highs. One reason for the pessimism of some analysts was the risk of yen depreciation against non-dollar currencies due to events in Greece. Another was the political risk that emerged with the aftereffects of the Ubukata firing.
They quoted Kawata Tsuyoshi, a senior strategist for Nikko Cordial Securities. Mr. Tsuyoshi is frequently cited in both the Japanese- and English-language press.
If this high-handed approach (by the DPJ) continues, it might wind up splitting the party. If they can’t win an outright majority in the July upper house election, and with the LDP looking internally shaky too, it’s possible the breakup of the DPJ will cause a political reorganization.
The party’s conduct of government and its policies have not been viewed favorably by the markets, and financial markets want to see stability in government. They expect the ruling party to come up with an economic stimulus measure before the election, but they will focus again on the government’s fiscal restraint…The Japanese financial markets will collapse starting with the bond market.
Facing the prospect of a civil war, plummeting poll numbers, and financial markets starting to place bets on their disintegration, even Ozawa Ichiro had to back down. He changed his mind, met Mr. Ubukata, and asked him to stay on. The latter agreed, later telling reporters, “There was no reason to turn him down.”
The Mainichi Shimbun reported that Hatoyama Yukio ordered him to change his mind, but more than a few people must have wondered if “order” was the most appropriate verb.
Thus, Mr. Ubukata’s job status has returned to the status quo ante. That wasn’t the only reversion, however. He made the round of television shows on Wednesday to say that Ozawa Ichiro should be called to testify before the Diet. He added that his tormenter, Takashima Yoshimitsu, should apologize to the people.
Meanwhile, Ozawa Ichiro hasn’t been chastened in the slightest. The group of those openly critical of his decision to pretend as if nothing had happened in the financial scandals has expanded to include a few Cabinet ministers. He had a few choice words for them today:
State ministers should do me the favor of concentrating on state business. If we exert ourselves to the utmost in both the Diet and in party affairs, we’ll be unified as a party, and that will yield excellent results.
There are more undertones in this statement than are apparent at a glance. The phrase that Mr. Ozawa used here for party unity was one he and his supporters often applied during the weeklong party presidential campaign to replace him last spring. Several commentators at the time thought it was an implied threat that he would bolt the party if he didn’t get his way.
With the DPJ, some things will never change.
LDP Secretary-General Oshima Tadamori spoke to the press on the 23rd in Saga, and summed up the situation perfectly:
There’s nothing I can say about such a farce…The DPJ’s support rate was falling, so I think they made the decision to reverse the decline.
Hiding the decline was probably the reason they made that decision, but it’s unlikely to have the effect they’re hoping for. The damage has already been done. Toothpaste doesn’t go back in tubes, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t put what passes for DPJ unity together again. How that will affect politics for the rest of the year remains to be seen, but as a member of the People’s New Party noted:
There has never been an instance when a slumping support rate has not become a fatal wound for a Cabinet.
Many in politics and the mass media refer to Ozawa Ichiro as “The Destroyer”.
It’s beginning to look like we’re going to find out why one more time.