Ichiro Ozawa, former chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, and his group of followers within the party are poised to vote against government-sponsored bills to raise the consumption tax and reform social security in the Lower House next week.
About 50 DPJ lawmakers have already signed letters of resignation and are ready to bolt from the party en masse to form a new party under Ozawa's leadership.
If that's their decision, so be it.
Ozawa has tried to justify his rebellion by saying, "We are acting for the cause of putting priority on protecting people's livelihoods." But his case for voting against the legislation is far from convincing. To us, his action seems to be nothing but a battle for power without a cause.
The "people's livelihoods first" slogan the DPJ used for the 2009 Lower House election, which led to the party's ascent to power, now sounds hollow.
After three years of failed efforts, there should be no doubt by now that the ruling party's election promise to raise 16.8 trillion yen ($208.8 billion) of new money to carry out its policy proposals through budget reforms and spending cuts is simply impossible to carry out.
Ozawa might want to say that he could deliver on the party's campaign promises if he were the prime minister. If so, he should offer clear and specific answers to some questions.
How would he ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the social security system without a consumption tax hike? What exactly would he do to secure 16.8 trillion yen of funds?
Ozawa has reportedly told his close followers that he would be able to mount a viable election campaign on opposition to a tax increase and a pledge to reduce nuclear power generation in Japan.
Aside from his opposition to a tax hike, however, we have never heard Ozawa speak in detail about his positions to wean Japan from atomic energy or on Japan’s nuclear power policy.
It appears that Ozawa is now opposing the tax increase and calling for a reduction in Japan's reliance on nuclear power not as serious policy proposals, but only as tools to win a certain number of seats for his group in the next Lower House election.
What is even more outrageous is that the Lower House members who have signed letters of resignation from the ruling party have handed the letters to Ozawa, putting them at his disposal.
These lawmakers appear to have given up efforts to make their own decisions and act accordingly on important policy issues, instead allowing their boss to decide on their behalf.
Even if they have received great help and support from Ozawa, it is hard to deny that they are acting in a manner that does not befit legislators of a democratic country.
Over the past three years, Ozawa has made little visible effort to help the party deliver on its election promises. Instead, he has made many high-profile moves to strengthen his power within the party that do nothing but undermine the DPJ-led government's efforts to implement its policy program.
In June last year, when the nation was still in a state of shock after the March 11 disaster, Ozawa temporarily showed a willingness to vote for an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
In spring this year, Ozawa instructed members of his group to resign from key posts of the ruling party and the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
It is ridiculous rather than surprising that Ozawa is now clamoring for the implementation of the party's election platform as a "cause."
If 54 or more members leave the party, the DPJ will lose its majority in the Lower House. That means the Ozawa group, in cooperation with the opposition parties, would be able to ensure the passage of a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet. The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party would make more aggressive moves to take advantage of Noda's weak situation.
Although Noda is in a tough political situation, it is impossible for him to make a compromise with Ozawa. And he shouldn't do so.
Noda has no choice but to confront Ozawa over the vote on the tax bills without flinching.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 23
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