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Blunt Politico, Idealist Vie to Define Japan's Future : Politics: The conservative Ozawa and the liberal Takemura are chief rivals in the current power struggle.


TOKYO — One is a brilliant policy strategist and ace at brute-power politics who criticizes Japan's consensus decision-making as "collective irresponsibility." He says Japan must become a "normal nation" by ending its free ride on American security policies and by more actively cooperating with such global ventures as U.N. peacekeeping operations.

For such views, Ichiro Ozawa of the Renewal Party is praised as a visionary and condemned as a dangerous autocrat.

The other is a liberal who rejects any role as a military or political giant. He says Japan should be a "small but shining nation" serving the world through ventures such as environmental cooperation.

Masayoshi Takemura, chief of the New Party Harbinger, is nicknamed Mumin Papa after a roly-poly creature in a Norwegian fairy tale; his kindly manner and consensus style may fit the Japanese character, but he is criticized as lacking substance.

They differ in policy, personality and political style. But Ozawa and Takemura have now become focal points and chief rivals in the monumental power struggle shaking Japan. That struggle--set off by the collapse last July of the Liberal Democratic Party's 38-year rule--came into sharp relief after Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa resigned last week.

Ozawa, 51, is de facto commander of the ruling coalition's conservative forces from the Renewal Party, the Buddhist-backed Clean Government Party and Hosokawa's Japan New Party, an alliance that totals 150 members. Takemura, 59, leads the 108 members of the liberal wing's New Party Harbinger, Socialists and Democratic Socialist Party.

As the political world lurches toward a historic realignment, the two rivals represent the sharp choices Japan faces in deciding what role to play internationally in the post-Cold War world. "This is a war between a Japanese idealist, Takemura, and a Japanese realist, Ozawa," said political commentator Yoshimi Ishikawa.

The two men also display different attitudes toward two of Japan's hottest issues: North Korea and tax policy. Ozawa says North Korea has a nuclear bomb and Japan might be a target, all the more reason to prepare defenses. Takemura has remained conspicuously silent. He enjoys friendly relations with the Pyongyang regime, having forged fishing treaties as governor of Shiga prefecture south of Kyoto. He visited North Korea in 1990 with former LDP kingpin Shin Kanemaru.

Ozawa has advocated a 10% increase in the consumption tax to pay for a 50% cut in income and residence levies--a bold plan that would probably offer a powerful economic stimulus. But Takemura has balked at raising the consumption tax and has advocated using deficit-financing bonds instead.

The two rivals have carried their war to bookstores, where Ozawa's best-selling policy tome has outsold Takemura's book more than 4 to 1, with 670,000 copies sold. In his "Blueprint for a New Japan," Ozawa bluntly takes Japan to task for weak leadership, selfish economic development and slavery to the company; he offers explicit proposals for change, saying, "We continue to receive and not to give."

Takemura, in his "A Small but Shining Nation," says such a path is a dangerous invitation to rearm. Japan, he says, should look for less provocative ways to contribute, such as devoting 0.5% of its annual gross national product--about $20 billion--to global environmental protection.

But more than their policies, their differing political styles have drawn the sharpest attention.

Both are former LDP members but were groomed under radically different masters. Ozawa is a disciple of legendary political shogun Kakuei Tanaka, the former prime minister who honed to an art the corrupt system of money politics. Takemura is allied with Masaharu Gotoda, a godfather of the LDP liberal wing who accelerated the crackdown on corruption in the construction industry in 1992 as justice minister under then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

In Japan's long tradition of political puppet and puppeteer, Ozawa works in the shadows, skillfully wielding power. He was said to be the mastermind behind the Hosokawa government and, over the years, has brokered agreements on such fractious issues as Japan's $13-billion contribution to the Persian Gulf War and trade compromises with the United States in areas including telecommunications and construction.

His brute effectiveness has won him ardent fans and virulent enemies. He is resented not only by Takemura but also by a majority of LDP members, who blame him for destroying the party's grasp on power by bolting with 35 members last year. As a result, he has become the lightning rod in the political turmoil, which is dividing along pro- and anti-Ozawa forces.

His shadowy style is coming under increasing attack. "In the Japan of today, politicians must take responsibility upfront for the power they wield," said Teruaki Nakano, a Tokyo advertising executive and admitted Takemura fan.

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