Rule No. 1 in Japanese politics is to admit that the whole thing is played out behind closed doors. Joe Public is invariably the last guy to be told what might be going on until the deals have been done, the hankos are on the documents and all the details properly sorted out.
The murky news on Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa suggests that he is going to have an increasingly hard time wriggling his way out of the present political crisis. Japan's leading political kingmaker is in big trouble and will need loads of skill, experience and extra-large dollops of luck to avoid getting off the hook on this occasion.
Assuming that the prosecutors have their evidence, it is surely an odds-on bet that Ozawa will be forced to resign his seat in the Diet. No doubt his colleagues will have mixed feelings about this probability since Ozawa ran the DPJ's successful election campaign last summer and many newcomers are beholden to him for having made it to parliament. Yet the longer the "scandal" rumbles on, the more the public's views on their government will work against the party and impact directly on the forthcoming Upper House election results.
Ozawa may well try, of course, to save his skin but party bigwigs must surely by now have reckoned that this old-style approach isn't going to wash. The days when his then seniors in the Liberal Democratic Party could offer a tearful apology, explain that were unfortunate "misunderstandings" and blame the entire on some poor secretary who had agreed in advance to take the rap are over for good.
The Democrats are going to have to let Ozawa go or face a backlash that will cost them dearly. You can not, pretty obviously, claim to be the antithesis of the LDP and then follow their ancient manual on how to survive a money "scandal". If Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's slogan of putting people before concrete has any substance to it, his party will simply have to give their controller his marching orders, take a deep breath and attempt to regroup as quickly as possible. Present issues surrounding Ozawa that are said to involve land transactions and donations from outsiders could hardly be more damaging to the DPJ's bid to distance itself from the ancient regime.
What might happen to Ozawa after that is pure speculation but it is unlikely that he can expect anything as gentlemanly as a mere slap across the knuckles from the prosecutors. He may, of course, prove to be as resilient as ever and hope yet to make a comeback after he takes any punishment that may be coming his way.
The man once famously described as the Richard Nixon of Japanese politics certainly cannot be written off just yet but it increasingly looks like Ozawa's days at the heart of the contemporary scene are at an end. Whether, though, a cleaner, more transparent system will emerge even slowly to replace the old ways remains doubtful.© Japan Today