DPJ post-Ozawa course must be constructive
Through its choice of Yukio Hatoyama as leader, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has chosen not to rethink the course taken by former party leader Ichiro Ozawa, and will instead follow a similar line.
The question now is whether Hatoyama's approach will secure public understanding and support.
On Saturday, DPJ Secretary General Hatoyama was elected the party's new president. Rival Vice President Katsuya Okada closed the gap that early opinion polls suggested existed, but he was unable to prevail.
Hatoyama, 62, was party secretary general for more than 3-1/2 years and established a good relationship with factional groups within the party. He also received much praise from DPJ lawmakers as a safe pair of hands in the position.
The main reason for his victory, though, was that he was able to expand his support base to DPJ lawmakers in the House of Councillors, who hold almost half of the party's Diet seats.
Fifty-five-year-old Okada, meanwhile, was praised by DPJ lawmakers for his clean image, and appeared in opinion polls to have more public support than Hatoyama and came out on top in a survey by DPJ prefectural chapters.
Many DPJ lawmakers in the House of Representatives said they had expected Okada to be the party's "front man" for the next general election.
Saturday's contest came down largely to the issue of how similar the two candidates were to Ozawa.
Hatoyama stated clearly his belief that the party is what it is today because of Ozawa, and emphasized his intention to continue the course mapped out by Ozawa.
Okada, for his part, had praised Ozawa's performance in steering the DPJ to victory in the 2007 upper house election. But he also had distanced himself from Ozawa's policy line, and some of his comments were tinged with criticism.
Weaning party off Ozawa?
For better or worse, the DPJ has relied heavily on Ozawa's strong personality and leadership. Hatoyama intends to appoint Ozawa to an important post in the party's new leadership, meaning Ozawa will still retain influence in the party.
Hatoyama has said he will not allow his regime to be dismissed as a puppet with Ozawa pulling the strings. But ensuring this will require tangible action, including by showing his independence through his management of the party and Diet.
Hatoyama will have to move quickly to establish a unified approach within the party to the next lower house election. He also will be tasked with bolstering a party scarred by a scandal in which one of Ozawa's secretaries was arrested and indicted over the taking and false reporting of illegal donations from a scandal-tainted general contractor.
DPJ platform needs clarity
But doing all this will not be easy.
One place to start would be to flesh out and improve the contents of the party manifesto.
It was reasonable for Okada to state that policies would not be put into practice without adequate financial resources. If the DPJ does not even allow party members to discuss a possible consumption tax rate hike, it can hardly be regarded as a responsible party. The DPJ should not avoid clarifying where the financial resources for policies--including allowances for infants and a program to compensate farmers for income shortfalls--will come from.
It also is necessary for the DPJ to map out comprehensive diplomatic and security policies.
Although the DPJ acknowledges the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, it emphasizes only that Japan should be up-front with the United States. The DPJ should instead say what it can do to strengthen the alliance and clearly outline what kind of responsibilities Japan should be shouldering in the international community.
In the Diet session this week, attention will be focused on deliberations at the upper house on the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget. Hatoyama indicated the DPJ would not try to delay deliberations and that he would be receptive to debate between himself and Prime Minister Taro Aso.
We hope under its new leadership the DPJ will tackle Diet affairs constructively.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 17, 2009)