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Saturday, April 8, 2006

DPJ elects Ozawa as new president

Old hand vows to restore credibility

Staff writer

The Democratic Party of Japan elected veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa, 63, as its new president Friday, ending his head-to-head race with rival and two-time President Naoto Kan.

Despite concern over his reputation for backroom dealing and dictatorial leadership, Ozawa received 119 of the 192 votes. Kan, 59, garnered 72 votes. One lawmaker was absent from the voting.

News photo
Veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa is applauded by his Democratic Party of Japan colleagues after being elected the new DPJ president.

"I will dedicate all my strength to realizing a DPJ regime," Ozawa, a former party vice president, told the party lawmakers after winning the race.

Ozawa becomes the fifth DPJ leader during Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's nearly five years in office.

Ozawa's biggest task appears to be restoring the DPJ's credibility during the remainder of outgoing leader Seiji Maehara's term through September, and to enable it to beat the Liberal Democratic Party in an Upper House election set for next year.

With Ozawa's election, the focus will now be on the choice of executive members. Before the election, both lawmakers agreed they would cooperate with the other regardless of who won, and it is likely Kan will be given one of the chief posts.

In a policy speech before the voting, Ozawa said he wants to rebuild the DPJ into Japan's "No. 1 opposition party that is trusted and stable," so it will ultimately be able to take power and make Japan "a fair nation."

"I would like to stake my life on overcoming this difficulty and recovering public trust in the DPJ," Ozawa said. "If the light for a two-party system and a change of power burns out, it means Japan is abandoned."

At a news conference after his election, Ozawa criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government, saying it was too dependent on bureaucrats and reform was only moving "inch by inch."

"I don't think (Koizumi's reforms) are in tune with the times," Ozawa said. "I believe the DPJ's role is to create a principle and basic policy that corresponds to the current times."

As for Japan's deteriorating ties with China, strained in part by Koizumi's annual visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Ozawa said he wanted "both the Japanese and Chinese people to be able to develop a friendly relationship based on trust and cooperation."

Prior to the election, Ozawa, a former Liberal Democratic Party veteran lawmaker, issued his political views in a written statement.

In the statement, Ozawa said that he aims to establish a fair and stable social security system by covering the basic part of pension, nursing and medical treatment for the elderly through consumption tax.

Regarding foreign policy, Ozawa said he will improve the relationship with China, South Korea and other neighboring countries based on the Japan-United States relationship.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ozawa said he favors revising the Constitution.

"The Constitution is the fundamental rule for people to live in society," Ozawa said. "If the rule no longer suits the lives of the general public due to changing times, it should be changed. That goes for regular laws as well as the Constitution."

Ozawa has been elected 13 times to the Lower House. In 1989, at the age of 47, Ozawa became secretary general of the LDP, but bolted from the party with a group of LDP members in 1993, triggering the LDP's loss of its ruling party status for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Since then, he has acted as the leader of Shinshinto and the Liberal Party. The DPJ presidential election came after Maehara expressed his intention to resign as DPJ leader last Friday to take responsibility over the fiasco involving the party's attempt to discredit a son of LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe with an e-mail, which turned out to be fake, suggesting a shady funds transfer to him from arrested Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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