Musical Chairs

Ichiro Ozawa resigned last week as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) over a fundraising scandal. The opposition democrats had a leadership election on Saturday and were faced with the choice between Yukio Hatoyama and Katsuya Okada, two former DPJ leaders with solic track records as total losers. Hatoyama won by a comfortable margin.


The basic political profiles of the two men are:

* Hatoyama was head of the DPJ from 1999 to 2002, after which he resigned after taking responsibility for the “confusion” over rumors about the merger with the Liberal Party, which was at the time lead be former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. The two parties ultimately did merge, and Hatoyama took a role in party leadership. (Hatoyama’s tenure was preceded and followed by Naoto Kan, another regular in the leadership roster of the DPJ).

* Okada became head of the DPJ in 2004 and led the party to one of its largest electoral victories in history during the 2004 upper house election. The winning streak didn’t last — he resigned a year later after his party suffered a dramatic losses in the 2005 general election that saw Koizumi’s ruling party the Liberal Democratic Party take its strongest win in history.

For an opposition party that has been floundering in defeat for more than a decade as it struggles to take power, the candidates for the leadership are a sorry pair. Not only are they both uncharasmatic repeat losers, it shows the party has a poor ability at cultivating new leaders.

Hatoyama’s selection is especially ironic when you consider that weeks ago, the DPJ suddenly made their public pet issue the ending of hereditary elected positions. In many districts in Japan, long-serving members of the Diet retire and have sons run in their place. I don’t have current figures, but I’ve read that at one time, as many as one third of the districts had such hereditary members. The DPJ is trying to end the practice, but this new and sudden moral mission is amusingly ironic now that Hatoyama is the party leader. Hatoyama is the grandson of former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, the son of former Foreign Minister Iichiro Hatoyama, and his brother is the current ruling party Minister of Justice. Do the rules, or at least the spirit of the rules, not apply to the leaders?

Hatoyama’s impending task is leading the party into an election that is just months away. The DPJ was favored to win for months, but with the new fundraising scandals facing the party and PM Aso finally finding his mojo, the LDP may now manage to win yet another election. And when Hatoyama and Okada are the best possible men to be proposed to lead the nation, perhaps that’s for the best.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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17 Responses to Musical Chairs

  1. Pingback: Mutantfrog Travelogue » Blog Archive » Musical Chairs

  2. Bryce says:

    It was a fairly obvious choice to me. Okada, despite his relative popularity, was at least partly to blame for the disaster for the DPJ that was the 2005 general election. Hatoyama, on the other hand, basically put the party on the electoral map in 2000 and was instrumental in formulating the strategy that led to a massive increase in DPJ seats after the 2003 election. His election also ensures that the Ozawa-Kan-Hatoyama triumvirate maintains its grip on the leadership, so that the DPJ actually looks like a political party rather than a group of individuals who determine their political position by the side of the bed they get out of that morning.

    While the DPJ’s selection of Hatoyama may make them look hypocritical, given the talk about generational politicians, that particular proposal was pushed by Okada Katsuda, who suggested that political micro-dynasties be restricted to three generations. Interestingly, Hatoyama is a fourth generation politician, so it may well be that the policy was aimed specifically at him.

    Personally, I think placing generational limits on politicians is just a foolish popular response to the problem. The reason these sons of sons of sons claim their place is because they inherit their fathers’ koenkai. Put generational limits on candidates and politicians will just pass off their support networks to their friends instead. The answer therefore lies in eliminating personal support networks or subordinating them to the national party office. The generation issue is just a sideshow which will end up supporting the status quo. As an ex-MITI man, Okada must know that.

  3. Bob Harrison says:

    Has the DPJ ever had power since 1945? As I understand it the LDP has been in control of one or both houses of the Diet for a long time now.

  4. Curzon says:

    Bob — the main opposition party for most of the postwar period was the Socialist Democrats, but they were ipso facto replaced by the DPJ in 1998. The Socialist Democrats were an interesting phenomenon in that they were ultimately not unhappy about being the perpetual minority as long as they recieved concessions from the ruling party, as documented in English academic literature by Gerald Curtis. The DPJ wants to take power and has that as its number one goal.

    Oh, but to answer your question — yes, the LDP has basically held power since the war, with one brief interlude in the 90s.

  5. Curzon says:

    Bryce: if that was Okada’s proposal, it was indeed truly self-serving. However, the party policy as adopted (or as proposed for adoption, not sure at this point) by the DPJ is stated clearly: an elected member of parliament cannot be followed in the same district by a relation. Granted, that wouldn’t cover Hatoyama, who was the first person to ever hold a seat in his newly created district in southern Hokkaido — hence my wording about the “spirit of the rules,” if not the actual rules themselves.

  6. Bryce says:

    Oops, no I got it wrong. It was three degrees of kinship, i.e. outlawing the succession of nephews and nieces.

  7. T. Greer says:

    “And when Hatoyama and Okada are the best possible men to be proposed to lead the nation, perhaps that’s for the best.”

    What about Aso? You discredit the DPJ candidates, but do you truly think the LDP’s men are any better?

  8. Bryce says:

    Would 3新等 imply 3rd generation politicians as well as nephews and nieces?

  9. Curzon says:

    Bryce: it’s 3親等, and yes to uncles/aunts and nephews/neices, but not to cousins, which are 4親等.

    (edited: woops, your prior comment was caught in the spam filter, sorry to be a Johnny come lately.)

    T. Greer: Touché. But at least disgraced party leaders fade away and are replaced by new blood, not recycled a few years later once everyone’s sorta forgotten how bad they were. (Yeah, there are exceptions, but the LDP is not the triumvirate that perpetually rules the DPJ.)

  10. Roy Berman says:

    Man, with choices like these who can really be inspired to vote? I’d be sorely tempted to stay home myself, but I would probably end up just voting for the DPJ merely because I’m sick of waiting to see and speculating about what happens when the LDP falls-I just want to see finally see it, damn the consequences. At the very least, even a failed DPJ administration would hopefully force the LDP to get their crap in order and find someone competent to take over.

  11. Aceface says:

    DPJ supporter here.

    “PM Aso finally finding his mojo”
    Not really.Check this just in poll from Ozawa hatin’Fuji News Network.

  12. Bryce says:

    “Yeah, there are exceptions, but the LDP is not the triumvirate that perpetually rules the DPJ.”

    Five leaders in the space of a decade does to me not a triumvirate make.

    Nevertheless, I get your point. Maehara would almost certainly rather be in the LDP if his left-wing kyotoite koenkai would only let him, and the real rulers of the DPJ found the most flimsy excuse to get rid of him. In terms of allegiance, meanwhile, Okada drifts between the triumvirate and Maehara.

    However, who is this “new blood”in the LDP you talk about? Fukuda and Aso were desperation picks, whereas Abe, well, he was just Abe. Prior to Koizumi? Mori? Obuchi? Stellar performers. Who’s your pick for the next slot? A drunken former finance minister or an otaku who plays with model airplanes?

    My own feeling is that political parties should be coherent. The DPJ has taken its share of flak over the last decade for its factionalism. Now that it has something of a political strategy and a policy platform in formation, the leadership is accused of being monolithic. I don’t think its critics ought to be able to have it both ways.

  13. feeblemind says:

    An interesting article in the UK Telegraph br Ambrose Evans-Pritchard titled ‘Asia will author it’s own destruction if it triggers a crisis over US Bonds’. An excerpt: ‘But crashes have a habit of bringing regime change. Brian Reading, a Japanese veteran at Lombard Street Reasearch, predicts a ‘seismic shock’ over the next four months as voters rebel. ‘With unemployment headed for five million by end year, something must happen.’ ‘

  14. Aceface says:

    Jeez.I knew the name Evans-Pritchard isn’t that common,but Amborse,the son of E.E Evans-Pritchard,the social anthropologist wrote the ethnography on Nuer in Sudan?

    Not so sure the economic crisis works against LDP though.In tough times,people gather under the big tree…..

  15. Curzon says:

    Roy: I reluctantly admit that your sentiments, or at least the last line, match my views perfectly.

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