Ozawa once more in charge of Japan’s DPJ

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

One of the big questions hanging over the newly formed Noda administration is whether the prime minister will be able to restore harmony within the ruling DPJ after the internal party discord that characterised the Kan administration.

Noda appeared to take a step in the direction of party unity by making a number of DPJ executive and cabinet appointments from among close supporters of party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa. It was Kan’s ‘escaping from Ozawa’ (datsu Ozawa) line that produced such high levels of discord between supporters and detractors of Ozawa. As Noda himself was generally aligned with the anti-Ozawa camp, he clearly made concessions for the sake of reconciliation within the DPJ.

Ozawa, too, made it clear that his view of the Noda administration was based directly on whom Noda appointed as party executives, indicating his cooperation with Noda was conditional on how Noda ‘will make arrangements on personal affairs’. Ozawa was satisfied with the appointment of two of his closest allies and spokespersons — Azuma Koshiishi and Kenji Yamaoka — as DPJ secretary-general and chairman of the Public Safety Commission respectively. He would have also been pleased with the appointment of self-confessed novice in national security affairs, Yasuo Ichikawa, as Minister of Defence.

Koshiishi’s appointment is key. In the DPJ, the secretary-general’s office exercises authority over party funds, approves official candidates in national elections and appoints party Diet members to various party and government posts. The position has tremendous organisational power. When Ozawa was DPJ president, he appointed Yukio Hatoyama as secretary-general. Between them they distributed ¥2.2 billion (US$28.7 million) in party funds in 2006–08. The money went to favoured candidates in key electoral districts. Hatoyama, when DPJ president (and prime minister), returned the favour by appointing Ozawa as DPJ secretary-general in his administration. It was Ozawa’s control over party money and appointments that enabled him to build up the biggest group of followers in the DPJ.

But Noda may pay a high price for buying Ozawa off. In addition to Koshiishi, there are other important appointments to Ozawa supporters — Noda has basically handed over the keys to the DPJ’s kingdom to Ozawa.

Most important is Koshiishi’s appointment of one of Ozawa’s former secretaries, Takeshi Hidaka, as a deputy secretary-general in his office. He names Ozawa as ‘the person he respects’ on his website and the first four photographs that flash up are of him and Ozawa. Hidaka worked for Ozawa from 1991 until 2000, accompanying his boss out of the LDP into the Renewal Party, then to the New Frontier Party and finally into the Liberal Party. In 2000, he published a book co-authored with another close Ozawa associate and former Upper House member, Sadao Hirano. Hirano was behind the internal revolt of 16 Ozawa supporters earlier this year. The group of rebels applied to leave the DPJ’s Lower House caucus and ended up abstaining from the vote on the budget. Hirano suggested the idea to Ozawa, advising him that it was the only way to replace Prime Minister Kan without anyone having to leave the party. Hidaka was one of five deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries who resigned their posts on 2 June to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion submitted by three opposition parties.

The significance of Hidaka’s appointment is that Hidaka is in charge of the most important tasks of devising election strategies, deciding who gets what amount of party funds and who should be endorsed to stand as DPJ candidates. Given that Hidaka is an Ozawa lackey, Koshiishi effectively handed over these functions to Ozawa. If Noda ever leads the DPJ into a Lower House election, these chickens will come home to roost.

Hidaka is also in charge of receiving requests for government patronage. It is his job to accept petitions from the DPJ’s prefectural federations and industry lobbies (for policy favours and the allocation of budget funds for specific projects). These were all functions that Ozawa jealously appropriated to himself when he was secretary-general of the DPJ in the Hatoyama administration as a means of further aggrandising his own power within both the party and the government. Indeed, Ozawa wanted the secretary-general’s position to take charge of these functions. But Koshiishi is the best proxy he can get and Koshiishi delivered with his appointment of Hidaka.

Koishiishi’s predecessor, Katsuya Okada, did things differently. He put himself in charge of election campaigning and receiving petitions from supplicants. He also introduced a system whereby party funds were subject to external auditing in order to secure transparency in the distribution of these funds. Koshiishi is yet to declare whether he will follow Okada’s example in this regard.

Also in the secretary-general’s office is another Ozawa henchman and chairman of Ozawa’s intra-DPJ group (called Isshinkai), Katsumasa Suzuki. Suzuki is the senior deputy secretary-general in charge of Diet affairs, and number two in the office. Along with Hidaka, Suzuki resigned his post as deputy minister of Internal Affairs and Communications prior to the no-confidence vote in June. His primary loyalty is to Ozawa, not to the DPJ, let alone Prime Minister Noda. He is an ideal lieutenant to Koshiishi.

Through these appointments, it seems that Prime Minister Noda has put Ozawa as de facto head of the DPJ’s secretary-general’s office.

Aurelia George Mulgan is Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.