However, Noda has one political ace up his sleeve: He has the sole power, in a parliamentary form of government, to call a general election. He can use this as a carrot to win over members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party to his side. He can tease Ozawa supporters with the threat since most of them, being political novices, are insecure in their seats and fear defeat in any election.
Unlike the Republican Party in America, the LDP is not adamantly and ideologically against raising taxes. Many on the LDP benches believe that such an action is necessary and overdue to bring order to Japan’s burgeoning public debt (the largest in the world in relation to GDP). However, the LDP is totally committed to obstructionism.
Practically from day one, the leader of the party, Tanigaki, has maneuvered to force another general election. He even promised to block bills authorizing sale of more government bonds without the immediate prospect of another election. He backed off only after the deadly earthquake made such pure political opportunism unseemly.
On the other hand, the governing party has nothing to gain from an election in which it would undoubtedly lose seats; many members of the enormous class of freshmen legislators in the national Diet are newcomers who toppled longtime LDP members and are not very secure in their constituencies. Noda can keep them in line with the prospect of their forcible return to civilian life.
Ozawa has long been a millstone around the necks of the Democratic Party leaders; a kind of man one can’t live with and can’t live without. He is something of a tactical electoral genius who was almost singled-handedly responsible for the party’s historic win three years ago. A large number of government MPs are people he personally recruited and groomed to run for office.
At the same time, he exudes the stench of corrupt “money politics,” if not actual corruption, and that isn’t likely to change following his recent acquittal. Noda and the party leaders would love to use his electoral skills while keeping him well hidden from public view. Unfortunately for them, Ozawa is not content to remain in the shadows, evidently convinced he still has one more shot at the top job.
Few believe he can really pull it off. “Ozawa will never become prime minister,” says longtime American political observer Gerald Curtis. Nevertheless, Ichiro Ozawa is perhaps the most influential Japanese politician of the past 20 years. It was he who engineered the vote of no confidence in 1993 that brought down the government of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, starting the slow political movement that saw the formation of a genuinely viable opposition party and its electoral success in 2009.
It is probably true that Ozawa will never achieve his life’s ambition to be prime minister, but whatever happens in the short term, he will be remembered long after the “one-year wonders” who actually did become prime minister in recent years are long forgotten.