Rebel Ozawa says he is leading a politically necessary revolution in Japan


TOKYO -- Ichiro Ozawa, the strategist of a rebellion that is threatening to deprive Japan's Liberal Democratic Party of its 38-year grasp on power, confesses that he isn't sure who Japan's next prime minister may be.

But the 51-year-old rebel insists that the ruling party split he instigated, stripping it of a majority in the powerful lower house of Parliament, is the beginning of a long-term revolution he intends to create.

In his vision, this revolution will clean up corruption, build a two-party system, invigorate policy-making, create true competition and an open market in Japan, give his nation the ability to make its own foreign policy decisions, enlarge Japan's contributions to the world, and even broaden personal freedoms.

But he admits that the first step, a crucial July 18 election, is a struggle.

Indeed, in an interview yesterday with a group of Japanese-speaking correspondents, Mr. Ozawa wasn't entirely sure that the Liberal Democrats will lose. Defeating them, he said, is necessary because they have proved incapable of self-reform.

His Shinseito, or Renewal Party, of Liberal Democrat defectors will win at least 50 seats, or 14 more than they have now, Mr. Ozawa said. But he said he is worried that the Socialists, the No. 1 opposition party, could fall to 70 or 80 seats -- or about half the total they won three years ago. If so, the opposition may not win enough seats to drive the ruling party from power, Mr. Ozawa said.

"If the Socialists can get 100 seats [20 percent of the total], we will get a majority," Mr. Ozawa said. "We" means the combined seats of seven opposition parties, excluding the Communists.

But driving out the Liberal Democrats is only the first problem.

The Socialists still cling to their insistence that Japan's armed forces are unconstitutional, offer only limp tolerance for the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, oppose nuclear power development and maintain close relations with Communist North Korea while treating South Korea coolly. And as long as the Socialists uphold that kind of program, Mr. Ozawa said yesterday, "we won't form a coalition with them."

Without them, however, an opposition coalition will be numerically impossible.

Mr. Ozawa, who is nominally second in command of the new party, is equally adamant that "the Liberal Democratic Party is no good . . . We left the party to seek reform. If we rejoined it, our action would be meaningless."

That means nobody may be able to patch together a majority coalition. A "minority government" -- a prime minister whose Cabinet is supported by parties lacking a majority in the lower house -- may appear, he said.

Whatever the outcome, the government that emerges will be unstable, he said.

In his eyes, the interim government would enact an electoral system to replace multiseat districts with single-seat constituencies, combined with proportional representation, and strengthen controls of political funds. Then, another election would be called next year.

"One side or the other would emerge with a majority" in that election, he said.

After that, Japan could get down to business on Mr. Ozawa's real agenda -- a reformation of Japanese society itself.

Even the mass media, he said, need reform.

"The mass media are part of the Establishment. They are the strongest opponents of reform," Mr. Ozawa said. With "no opinions of their own," the media merely offer moderate criticism, comfortable in the knowledge that their snipes won't disrupt ruling party actions, he said. If a new government came into power, the media wouldn't know what to advocate, he said.

Mr. Ozawa said that he and his rebels, however, want to "make our demands in international politics while also assuming our responsibilities. At home, we will remove and ease bureaucratic controls. We will permit competition in the true sense of the word, freedom of expression in its true meaning and freedom of actions . . . Perhaps we won't reach the level of free competition that exists in the United States ."

Asked whether he thinks that the average Japanese wants such a free society, he snapped: "No, I don't. That's why I'm trying to raise this problem."

Many Japanese, he said, "don't want to change the living style they have now . . . What they want is to be left alone on these four islands [of Japan]. But to maintain [Japan's] level of living standards or to preserve peace . . . while depending on huge imports of raw materials and huge markets of the world [for Japan's exports], the only path by which Japan can survive is to put its power together with that of other countries of the world and cooperate."

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