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Japan's ex-DPJ head's exact role not yet clear

Publication Date : 29-11-2012


Disbanding his own People's Life First party, Ichiro Ozawa, former leader of Democratic Party of Japan, has managed to secure an alliance with Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada's newly formed Nippon Mirai no To (Japan future party). However, the extent of Ozawa's influence and his role within the party is not yet clear.

In mid-October, Ozawa had approached Kada to head a new party under the banner of creating a nuclear-free society. While Kada initially turned down Ozawa's offer, former agriculture minister Masahiko Yamada helped the two see eye to eye.

When Kada and Yamada met in mid-November, Kada expressed concern that a new party would bear too much of Ozawa's mark if she were to join hands with only Ozawa and his affiliates. However, he persuaded her by saying that Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, former state minister for financial services Shizuka Kamei and Yamada himself would also join.

"As the three of us are quite strong characters, the new party will be less Ozawa-centric," Yamada reportedly said.

Yamada and Kawamura jointly lead a party created last Thursday that advocates tax cuts, a nuclear-free society and opposes Japan's entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord negotiations. Their party will merge with the new party led by Kada.

Yamada and Ozawa have been close since the time when they both belonged to the Democratic Party of Japan. The two are believed to have been working behind the scenes to bring about "Kada's new party."

Even so, the days leading up to Tuesday's announcement were still tense. Kada met with Ozawa on Saturday to discuss last-minute details, but was met with opposition from close aides and supporters upon revealing her decision on Monday. Some reportedly baulked because they had not heard anything about the party, while others objected to joining hands with Ozawa.

As a result, Kada hesitated once again and only discussed the announcement with those close to her until early Tuesday. After coming to a decision, Kada told supporters she felt the wishes of the public, regardless of criticism, and made the announcement.

"Ozawa was good at making the arrangements," said a person close to Kada. "He even moved forward his plan to disband his party, meaning [Kada] can no longer back out."

Immediately after Kada's announcement, People's Life First executives held an emergency meeting and decided to join the new party in about 20 minutes.

She also received a push from Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, who will serve as the new party's acting leader. Iida has been working as a special adviser to the prefectural and municipal governments of Osaka and was a trusted ally of Osaka Mayor and Ishin no Kai acting leader Toru Hashimoto. However, it is believed the relationship has deteriorated since Hashimoto teamed up with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who does not hold an antinuclear stance.

"With Ms Kada as leader, the party will appeal to more female voters, including homemakers. Then Ozawa can concentrate on the practical side of campaigning. Now we are ready to fight," said a former House of Representatives member close to Yamada.

"I invite everyone to come to work with us. Anyone who wants to join can just come up to me," Kada said at Tuesday's press conference to announce the launch of her new party.

But some observers have voiced concern that Ozawa's presence in the new party could result in a "dual power structure" in which Ozawa pulls the strings and Kada acts as a figurehead.

Members of Midori no Kaze, or Green Wind Party, are split on whether to join Kada's party. Three of its former lower house members have decided to join, while four House of Councillors members have not.

"We established our party because we wanted to change the traditional and undemocratic decision-making style of Nagatacho, the nation's political centre, where 'once a boss decides, the others just follow,'" one of the four said.

Meanwhile, talks between Ishin no Kai and Your Party have broken down. Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe reportedly told a senior member of his party that Ishin no Kai has changed its policies since joining with Taiyo no To, indicating distrust.

"They're not Nippon Ishin no Kai, but now Nihon [meaning two pillars] Ishin no Kai, headed by two--Hashimoto and Ishihara. We can't promote [merger] talks under these conditions," Watanabe told reporters Tuesday.

'They can't do anything'

Hashimoto also criticised Kada's new party during a meeting in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, on Tuesday.

"I have confidence in leading a political group, but Governor Kada doesn't have such experience. Even though she's established a group against nuclear power generation, I don't think they can do anything," Hashimoto said. "It's easy to say, 'Abolish nuclear plants.' But where is her plan? Even the government hasn't made one yet."

Ishin no Kai has decided not to include a policy to stop operations at all nuclear plants by the 2030s in its campaign pledge for the upcoming election.


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