Raw Japan

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“Divine wind” blows for ruling party, but how strong?

March 6, 2009

JAPAN-POLITICS/OZAWA-STAY

When a close aide to Japan’s opposition leader, Ichiro Ozawa, was arrested this week in a fundraising scandal, tabloids called it a “kamikaze” divine wind for the struggling ruling party.

The image, borrowed from a famed 13th century episode in which a huge typhoon destroyed a Mongol fleet that set out to invade Japan, captured the shock impact of the scandal, which is clouding prospects of Ozawa’s Democratic Party winning an election this year.

The Democrats had been looking more and more likely to win the election, which must be held by October, in a victory that would spell a historic change of power ending more than 50 years of nearly unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal Democrats.

Ozawa has denied any wrongdoing by himself or his aide and says he is not thinking of stepping down, but analysts say he may be forced to quit or risk scuttling his party’s chances at the polls.

A former ruling party heavyweight who defected and helped briefly oust the party in 1993, Ozawa has struggled with a reputation as an old-style fixer that conflicts with his equally strong image as a bold reformer who wants to pry policy decisions out of the hands of bureaucrats and adopt a more independent foreign policy less subservient to the United States.

Now analysts say the 66-year-old lawmaker may have to quit his leadership post — and abandon the chance to be prime minister — if he is to achieve his dream of booting out the Liberal Democratic Party, with whom he began his career.

If Ozawa falls on his sword, voters fed up with what they see as LDP incompetence and waste may still be willing to give the Democrats a chance, analysts say.

“He wouldn’t get to the promised land,” said Chuo University political scientist Steven Reed of Ozawa, who has spent more than 15 years in his quest to topple the LDP.  ”He would just have to stand and look at it from the distance.”

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