Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's main opposition party Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has a real chance of guiding his party to victory over Shinzo Abe and the LDP in the upcoming elections for the House of Councillors on July 29.
Indeeed, the wily 65-year-old Ozawa has staked his political future on the outcome - promising to retire from public life if his party fail to take an overall majority. This claim should be taken with some skepticism.
Throughout his long and controversial political career as a central player in the perplexing world of Japanese politics over the last four decades, Ozawa has consistently changed tack when events have pushed the Keio University educated, Iwate native into a tight corner.
Ozawa entered politics in the late 1960s, was elected to the Diet in 1969, becoming a member of the powerful Kakuei Tanaka faction.
Ozawa has twice held key offices in LDP governments, first in 1985 as Home Affairs Minister under Yasuhiro Nakasone and in 1989 as LDP Secretary General.
During fall-out from the Sagawa Kyubin/Shin Kanemaru corruption scandal, Ozawa jumped ship from the LDP, where he had made many enemies during his heady rise, to form the Japan Renewal Party in 1992 along with long-time ally Tsutomu Hata.
This alliance lead to the end of LDP rule for the first time in 38 years with the short-lived administration of Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993, while Ozawa and Hata pulled the strings in the background in true kuromaki style.
The Ozawa and Hata coalition collapsed in 1994 as the Socialists left the alliance to join the LDP in a new grouping, which assumed power under the premiership of Tomiichi Murayama. Ozawa's insistence that Japan take a more active role in foreign affairs, 'normalize' its military and his statements in favor of Japan producing nuclear weapons did much to alienate his erstwhile Socialist partners.
Ozawa moved again, joining the New Frontier Party and becoming its leader after a bitter leadership battle with Hata. This party in turn dissolved and Ozawa formed the Liberal Party and joined the LDP in a new coalition in the late 1990s.
Ozawa's most recent metamorphosis is as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan from 2003, where he has joined forces once more with Tsutomu Hata. Ozawa was forced to step down as leader in 2004, when he was caught up (along with a number of Japan's political elite) in the ongoing Pension Scandal. Duly re-elected in April this year, Ozawa stands on the brink of his latest political triumph.
The election poster slogan reads: "A middle-aged man on the move." Oyaji (オヤジ) is slang for a middle-aged man.
On nuclear weapons
"It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads. We have
plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make
several thousand such warheads." (April 2007)
On the July elections
"This is the last chance to put a brake on the politics that have ignored the everyday lives of our citizens." (July 2007)
Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation
Book a hotel in Japan with Bookings
Japan Japanese Politics Ichiro Ozawa
Monday, July 23, 2007