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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Saturday poll set to choose new DPJ boss
Hatoyama or Okada eyed to succeed Ozawa
By MASAMI ITO
A day after embattled Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa abruptly announced he plans to resign, the top opposition party scrambled to set the stage for electing its next leader.
The DPJ decided to hold its presidential election Saturday. The winner, if the party prevails in the Lower House election that must be held by fall, could become prime minister.
As of Tuesday, only two key names were being floated — DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and former President Katsuya Okada — although neither had officially declared his candidacy.
Asked if he would run, Okada said in the morning he was thinking about it "carefully."
"I have not come to a conclusion yet," he said.
But according to sources, Okada contacted party members to ask for their support if he takes a run at the presidency. Depending on the response, he could declare his bid as early as Wednesday, the sources said.
Meanwhile, Hatoyama on Tuesday night had not ruled himself out of the race.
"I want to keep an open mind about (what I should do). I want to make a decision as soon as possible," Hatoyama said.
Senior DPJ adviser Kozo Watanabe predicted the election will be a one-on-one fight. Both heavyweights are considered conservatives, but Hatoyama, who has advocated amending the Constitution, is believed to be slightly farther right than Okada, who once voiced support for a consumption tax hike.
"Both are great lawmakers who would not be considered inferior to (Prime Minister Taro) Aso and they are both ready to boldly become candidates for prime minister," Watanabe said. "Regardless of the results, the party will unite and be ready to win against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the next general election."
The DPJ will officially accept candidates Saturday morning before its Diet members cast their votes later in the day.
The vote will be limited to Diet members so the party can elect a new leader swiftly and avoid disrupting the current legislative session.
Because of the importance of the election, some lawmakers argued it should be pushed back so the public can have time to learn what policies the two would pursue.
"I think we should take the time and create an opportunity for the (presumed) candidates to express their opinions to the public," said Jun Azumi, the DPJ's deputy Diet affairs chief. "But considering the various political schedules, I agreed" that it should be held Saturday.
Azumi said he already knows how he will vote but wouldn't elaborate.
"The new leader will have to challenge (the Aso-led LDP), and I think it is important that the new president have a clean image," Azumi said. Information from Kyodo added