The ground becomes firm after the rainfall, goes an old Japanese saying, and that is exactly what happened in the DPJ when Hosono told Prime Minister Noda this morning that he would not contest the PDJ leadership and would continue to dedicate himself to the task of ensuring nuclear safety and recovering from the ravages of the disaster.
Hosono has definitely stayed within character and he had consistently emphasized the need to dedicate himself to his remit, both points indicating that this was a decision from the heart—admittedly not a risk-taking one—and not a loss of nerve. It’s easy to conclude that this enhances his credibility within the DPJ and with the public and the mainstream media and positions him as the odds-on favorite to replace Noda when that occasion arises, and it’s also hard to think that such calculations were not far from his mind.
In the meantime, the positions of Noda and the DPJ going into a snap election have been reinforced by the whole affair. First, the failed draft-Hosono movement raised the profile of an effective public figure, a figure whose policy outlook is highly consonant with Noda and his explicit supporters. Hosono will be even more useful in the brief campaign sprint. Second, it essentially cleared the way for a relatively smooth path for Noda for reelection as DPJ head by shoving other pretenders off center stage. The groundswell for Hosono exposed the main weakness of the other potential challengers: the lack of personal appeal that transcends policy and personality differences. Every other pretender looks diminished after the brief but intense glare of the klieglights on might-be contender Hosono, and the incumbent is the other beneficiary. Third, the fact that the dissent homed in on a cabinet minister whose overall policy views are already highly consonant with the prime minister’s indicates that there is significant room for policy coherence—or at least tolerance—within the DPJ. That is a positive for Noda, or whoever might succeed him after the looming lower house election, in pushing his policy priorities.
It would have been interesting to see how high the DPJ would have bounced back with Hosono at the helm—there would surely have been some backlash as well against the mere fact of a fourth DPJ prime minister as in many years—and how much of that could have been sustained throughout the election campaign. That we’ll never know, but we will know sooner or later if he is the leader that the DPJ needs.