Ozawa’s “soft” support base

It now appears that NHK has retracted their statement that Mabuchi and co. went for Noda’s group and in fact Mabuchi himself voted for Kaieda while seemingly the rest of his supporters voted as they wished. It also appears that Kano, Maehara and Noda had struck a rough agreement that the 3rd and 4th place getters would support the 2nd place getter in a strategic arrangement made before the first round of voting. Apparently Kano and his group, and a few of the younger cohort in the DPJ eventually baulked at the pressure applied to them by Ozawa, were concerned at the inelegance of Ozawa’s manoeuvring, and decided to throw in their lot with the mainstream group. According to this (jp) Nikkei article, Kano, after finishing fourth and being eliminated in the first round, took off his suit jacket to indicate to the 30 or so members most loyal to him that he was going to go with Noda and that they should follow his lead. Along with a few Mabuchi followers defecting to Noda this would bring Noda up to the 215 votes or so that he received, if some of Maehara’s votes defected to Kaieda out of concern for Noda’s tax rise friendly platform. It is still possible that Ozawa threw a few votes Noda’s way in round one for insurance but there was probably already a strong sense that, in addition to their not getting anywhere near 199 in round one, they were also likely to lose in the run-off as well. The scenario identified two posts before of Ozawa’s support base softening seems to be the most appropriate interpretation of yesterday’s events.

If the Nikkei’s summary of yesterday’s events (table -jp) is roughly accurate then this is bad news for Ozawa’s strength within the party. First of all, Okada has claimed that events proceeded as exactly as he (and Sengoku) expected. This suggests they have a good understanding of internal party relationships, something which Ozawa is increasingly losing. Furthermore, if we subtract the roughly 40 or so that we know are loyal to Hatoyama from Kaieda’ first round vote, then we can conclude at the very most we have 100 members inside the Ozawa “clique.” A far cry from the much larger 150 plus commentators were ominously talking about soon after the 2009 election. The strength of loyalty of even this 100 is probably suspect and as argued without a strong hold on the Secretary-general job Ozawa’s ability to command loyalty is going to decrease. In addition the Japanese media is already talking about “3 consecutive defeats” for Ozawa, with some glee to be sure, and those loyal to him are likely to going to see the writing on this particular wall. The way Ozawa played with even some of his most loyal supporters in the run up to the election is also going to leave a particularly bad taste in many mouths when the post-mortems are conducted today.

Kano for his sins, along with Koshiishi Azuma, is also featuring in talk regarding the important DPJ Secretary-general role. This might not only be some kaeshi for helping out Noda but both are seen to be quite middle of the road members within the DPJ. As opposed to Okada, Sengoku, Maehara or Edano, the selection of either of Koshiishi or Kano would be a signal to other DPJ members that appeals to “party unity” are not the empty slogans that they were perceived to be under Kan. Already some who supported Kaieda have approved of the possible selection of these candidates, and even Ozawa himself has been quoted as saying that he would support Noda if his appeals to party unity do indeed turn out to be more than empty words. Of course we will believe that when we see it but yesterday’s events seems to confirm that Ozawa may have little choice in the matter if Noda takes a pragmatic approach to selecting party personnel and focuses on manageable policy outcomes.

In this respect Noda will still have to act decisively in the short-term to ensure party divisions do not break open into a full internal civil war. However the election of Noda over either Maehara or Kaieda may help to avert an immediate breakdown of the DPJ, although Noda’s popularity, and thus to a substantial degree, ability, to navigate the domestic political situation will be the more important long-term challenge.

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