When Yamaoka Kenji dropped off the 40 resignation letters from Democratic Party of Japan members of the House of Representatives at the DPJ secretary-general's office on Monday, the curiously round number of 40 raised some eyebrows. Suspicions were reinforced by the odd coincidence that 40 was precisely the number of likely defectors being batted around in press reporting immediately prior to the delivery of the letters.
No matter how good their reporters are, no paper or television station ever gets the numbers spot on. Close, sure. But on the money? A damn rare occurrence.
It was not outside the realm of conjecture that former DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro and Yamaoka had asked some of those who wanted to quit the DPJ to remain behind, to become sleepers, poised to resign from the DPJ in dramatic style when the new Ozawa-led breakaway party came into being.
However, so botched was the Monday breakout, with 3 of the 40 asking to have their resignations rescinded and a fourth becoming an independent, that a drastic change the narrative was in order. The story was becoming one of laughable oafishness and presumption rather than menace.
So it seems that Ozawa chose to burn one of his presumed sleepers.
Kato Gaku (Nagano District #5, freshman) was one of the 17 DPJ members of the House who had voted against the bill raising the consumption tax to 10% by 2015 but who elected to stay on the in the party. On Tuesday the DPJ executive tagged Kato with a two-month suspension of his party privileges.
Somehow Kato found this punishment, which would see him reinstated with full rights in time for the DPJ's leadership election in September, too onerous to bear. Exile and potential electoral oblivion seems to have been preferable.
Kato's attempts to create the impression that he had come to his decision on his own were almost sad. After meeting with Acting President Tarutoko Shinji, Kato explained his resignation as being a result of the likelihood there will be a House of Representatives election within the next two months and he wanted to prevent the increase in the consumption tax (J) -- two thoughts that whether considered together or in isolation, make not a bit of sense.
After Kato's meeting with DPJ secretary-general Koshi'ishi Azuma, he told waiting reporters, "I have come to this decision by myself." Such a claim is, of course, ludicrous. Whenever an adult male Homo sapiens tells you he came to a decision by himself, it is precisely because he did not.
Meanwhile the other 18 members of the DPJ under suspension -- the 17 others who had earned two month suspension plus Hatoyama Yukio, whose "no" vote on the consumption tax legislation was deemed so heinous, coming as it did from a founder of the party, that he was slapped with a six month suspension -- met with 3 of the House of Councillors members who had had their resignation tendered to the secretary-general on Monday in a study group meeting on of the passage of the consumption tax bill through the House of Councillors. Hatoyama, the parrot that he is, borrowed Ozawa Ichiro's catchphrase of "putting the livelihood of the people first" (kokumin no seikatsu ga daichi - a phrase Ozawa allies today registered as the names of the new caucuses for the DPJ rebels in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors) as the reason he will continue to struggle with the DPJ leadership, even after receiving the party's most severe form of punishment short of expulsion. Hatoyama also parroted the blunt warning of Ozawa Sakihito (no relation (to Ozawa Ichiro) that if the all the members of the opposition, Party Kizuna, the yet-to-be-formed Ozawa party and the DPJ members under suspension were to vote together, a no-confidence motion again the Cabinet would pass. (J)
Theoretically, true. Practically, impossible.
The LDP and the New Komeito crave power; the Your Party hates the Noda government's contractionary economic policies and the deference it pays to the bureaucracy; and the Socialists hate the tax rise and the government's policies on the restarts of Japan's idled nuclear reactors.
But to think that all the members of these parties, plus the Sunrise Party, the other microparties, the independents plus the Communists will all join hands with Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio to topple the Noda government is wishful thinking at its most wishful.
As for Hatoyama's and Ozawa Sakihito thuggish, numerically implausible threats, they have flushed down the toilet any chance of the mainstream DPJ leadership ever allowing either man any responsibility greater than crossing guard or perhaps garbage collector.
How many Kato Gakus still sleep among the ranks of the DPJ? My guess is four, perhaps five more. It is possible, however, that my confidence in Noda Yoshihiko's mastery of the numbers blinds me to the likelihood of a much larger and damaging number of potential defectors remaining.
As for Ozawa Sakihito, he clearly seems to have missed the elementary school lesson that when someone treats you with leniency, you show remorse and, for a decent interval, remain silent.
Later - This text has been edited for clarity.