Kan Naoto has fended off Ichiro Ozawa for the top post in the DPJ, and the position of Prime Minister of Japan. Kan won 721-491, a convincing victory. The question is, what will happen now. When Kan became PM in June, he distanced himself from the old Ozawa clique by not giving him any important party of Cabinet post. This in turn contributed to Ozawa’s decision to run against the incumbent party leader. What will Ozawa do now? Will he turn his bloc of lawmakers against the DPJ, will he make peace with the Kan faction, or will he finally retire and give Mrs. Ozawa the time and attention she has been sorely lacking for the last few decades?
It’s fairly difficult to predict with any certainly what Ozawa will do. He’s been a political maverick for at least 20 years, but whereas his 1994 book Blueprint for a New Japan laid out a compelling vision for Japanese foreign relations working under UN auspices, the grime of day to day politicking and the dirt of financial scandals has worn down his reputation with the public, and today’s decision is almost certainly a good thing. Having a party leader become PM when the overwhelming majority of the public were against him would not have been a good situation for Japan – and given the various problems the Japanese economy faces Ozawa I suspect wouldn’t have been able to make the substantive changes he desired. Kan will rumble on – Japan is in an extended period of political transition, and the moment when it emerges from this tunnel is hard to predict with any certainty without the benefit of hindsight.