Veteran political fixer Ichiro Ozawa and 49 loyalists effectively resigned from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan on July 2.
They plan to create a new party in an effort to win over voters in the next Lower House election by campaigning on two key issues: opposition to an unpopular increase in the consumption tax rate and a pledge to phase out nuclear power generation.
Ozawa demanded that the DPJ withdraw the bills for raising the consumption tax rate. The bills recently passed the Lower House after 129 hours of Diet deliberations. A suprapartisan agreement was reached after days of talks between the DPJ and two opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. Ozawa’s demand was simply unrealistic and unreasonable.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the ruling party’s leadership should expel these rebels instead of accepting their letters of resignation, thereby making a decisive break with the group.
There is no doubt that the defections will weaken the Noda administration’s power base in terms of the ruling party’s numerical strength in the Diet.
But the development is not necessarily a total loss for the DPJ, of which Ozawa was once president.
The ruling party has been plagued by perennial bickering between the Ozawa group and the anti-Ozawa camp over policies and political approaches. The party has been unable to achieve unity on such key policy issues as upping the consumption tax rate. The DPJ should use its break with the Ozawa group as a first step toward overcoming this obvious weakness.
Then, the DPJ should seek to use the framework for cooperation with the LDP and New Komeito to enact other important legislation during the extended Diet session. The ruling party needs to seek suprapartisan cooperation wherever possible to push through important policies.
That’s the only way left for Noda, who has to tackle many policy challenges in the face of a dominant opposition presence in the Upper House.
At the same time, the DPJ should take this opportunity to stage an all-out effort to improve the political viability of its basic policy proposals. The party’s election manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, developed under Ozawa’s leadership, was full of hollow promises that were not backed by a realistic financing plan. The party cannot afford to keep hewing to this bankrupt platform.
On the other hand, Ozawa has pledged to return to the policy agenda that helped the DPJ come to power through the regime change in 2009. He would claim that his new party can deliver on the promise to raise 16.8 trillion yen (about $210 billion) to finance various policy proposals without raising the consumption tax.
But Ozawa was responsible for implementing the DPJ’s policy pledges during nine months that the administration headed by Yukio Hatoyama was in office. At the time, Ozawa served as the ruling party’s secretary-general.
Yet, we have hardly ever heard Ozawa propound specific proposals for the type of spending cuts that would be needed to produce such a large amount of money.
In a recent Asahi Shimbun poll, only 15 percent of respondents voiced expectations for Ozawa’s new party, while 78 percent said they had no expectations.
The poll findings apparently show that the nation’s voting public has become leery of the politician, who has again thrown politics into confusion by brandishing unrealistic policy proposals.
If the tax bills pass the Diet during the extended session, Noda will come under renewed pressure to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election to seek a fresh public mandate to govern the nation.
The fragmented DPJ needs to focus on prompt suprapartisan cooperation to push through key policy challenges.
On the other hand, the parties should vie for voter support by making clear their positions on such basic issues as social security and nuclear power generation and developing realistic platforms backed by solid financing plans.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 3
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