Kan wins, but Ozawa continues to lurk in the shadows

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Posted 15 Sep 2010 in Japan, Japanese Politics, News

As expected, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa in yesterday’s DPJ leadership contest. Here are the results in full:

MPs Local Assembly Members Party Members and Supporters Total
Kan 412 60 249 721
Ozawa 400 40 51 491

The results show a significant difference between the way lawmakers (MPs and local assembly members) and rank-and-file party members voted. A large proportion of the former remained loyal to Ozawa, while the latter voted against him by a margin of almost five to one.

Rather than bow out quietly, however, it seems likely that Ozawa will continue to wield at least some degree of power. In post-election interviews Kan hinted that, despite strong anti-Ozawa sentiment among party members, the baggy-eyelidded one might still be appointed to a position of some importance.

Kan may have won the leadership battle, but that doesn’t mean he is particularly popular with the public. His cleaner-than-most, average-boy-turned-good image works in his favour, but many Japanese still at least respect, if not admire, Ozawa’s deal-making skills. Despite only being in office for three months Kan already has a reputation for poor leadership and indecisiveness (although for Japanese prime ministers both of these “qualities” could be part of the job description) – the “will-he-won’t-he raise the consumption tax” debacle being a case in point. He is running a minority government, and many of the smaller parties, including former LDP heavyweight Yoshimi Watanabe’s “Your Party” (“Minna no To”, in Japanese), have already said that they will not cooperate with him.

Over the coming months Kan needs to make a lot of difficult economic decisions; win the support of MPs from both the DPJ and the smaller parties; and build confidence in his government among business leaders and the public. Rather him than me.

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