Ichiro Ozawa, known as the “destroyer” for splitting political parties, did it again on July 2. He left the Democratic Party of Japan, which he organized to topple the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party two years ago, together with 49 lawmakers of his faction to undermine Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's grip on power. The split of the ruling party, of which Ozawa was the first leader, followed Noda's victory in getting a government-sponsored bill passed by the lower house of the Diet to raise the consumption tax less than a week before. Ozawa's excuse to bolt from the party was that the tax hike was a “betrayal against the people” and the party is composed of “liars.” Ozawa is planning to launch a new party of his own in preparation for the next general election.
What will happen after Ozawa's new party is created?
The tax bill, which would hike the sales tax to 10 percent by 2015, was adopted after the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito threw in their support for Noda. The two opposition parties are expected to help Noda get the bill passed in the upper house of the Diet to make it a law of the land in August. But immediately after the final legislation, they will call for a no-confidence vote on Noda, which is all but certain to pass with the support of Ozawa's party, and force Noda to call a general election before his term is up in the fall of 2013. Noda's ruling coalition will lose its current majority in the lower house if it loses 55 seats, and the opposition parties, together with Ozawa's followers and a few more defectors from the Democratic Party, will oust Noda as prime minister.
One thing that may emerge in the suddenly called general election is the rise of ultra-nationalists, their stars being Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Toru Hashimoto, governor turned mayor of Osaka. Hashimoto, the most popular politician in Japan now, has his own party, Ishin-no-Kai, which literally means the Group for Restoration. The party, named a la the Meiji Restoration that yanked Japan out of feudalism to rise as a world power, is seeking to take a foothold in Japan's parliament. He is a charismatic 42-year-old leader in the country known for the blandness and advanced age of its politicians. He was first elected governor of Osaka and then quit to run for the city of Osaka and overwhelmingly won the office. His ascendancy reflects a growing disenchantment with government in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster triggered by the massive tsunami resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. An official investigation report, released last week, pointed an accusing finger at the Noda administration for the Fukushima disaster, dooming any chance the Democratic Party will remain the largest party in the lower house after the new general election.
The ultra-nationalist Ishihara is trying to form a coalition with Hashimoto in the general election which is likely to take place a month or two after the Noda Cabinet falls. Their common appeal is to make an economically languishing Japan strong enough militarily to cope stalwartly with the threat of the People's Republic of China, which has surged ahead to become the world's second-largest economy in place of their proud Land of the Rising Sun. The ultra-nationalists certainly will give Japanese voters hope for a Japanese restoration like the one in the name of Emperor Meiji or such a true recovery as their country achieved after the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Japan invested in rearmament to recover ahead of all the countries from the long disastrous worldwide economic limbo. They hope another round of rearmament may work a miracle.
As things are going in Japan now, the Hashimoto-Ishihara coalition is more than likely to win over a third of the seats in the lower house, where the leader of the majority party is made prime minister. Hashimoto's Ishin-no-Kai will field new faces to win support of the younger Japanese fed up with the aging old guard just as the assassins Junichiro Koizumi sent to return his Liberal Democratic Party to power in 2005. Ishihara has a son, Nobuteru, who is the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and two others serving as members of the lower house of the same party. A sizable number of LDP incumbents may follow the Tokyo governor.
When the coalition does not win a majority outright, it will be time for Ozawa to go on stage. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of voters give Ozawa's rebellion against the Democratic Party a thumbs-down and do not have high expectations for any new party he may set up. That is in stark contrast to the first time Ozawa left the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993, along with 43 lawmakers to end four decades of that party's uninterrupted rule over Japan.
Though Ozawa's new party may post a lackluster record in the new general election, his king-making competence is not getting rusty. The coalition government Ozawa masterminded enjoyed over 70 percent of support when it took over in 2010. He is cut out for masterminding a new government with the Ishihara-Hashimoto coalition.
A new Japanese government thus formed is likely to complete an amendment the upper house adopted last month to the country's Atomic Energy Basic Law to allow the use of nuclear power for “national security.” That means nuclear armament. The ultra-nationalists know going nuclear is the only way for Japan to snap out of its two-decade-long economic doldrums, make up for the weakening American security guarantee, and reclaim the political influence in Asia it has lost with the rise of China and an oil-rich Russia, from which its Northern Territory of four Kurile islands have to be recovered.
Of course, they know by experience an indulgence in ultra-nationalism as a means of escaping from the prolonged economic and social stagnation may bring disastrous results as it did in the defeat in World War II, but they have no other option open to them than to resort to nuclear armament in self-defense in an attempt to reestablish their country's past glory.
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