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Friday, Sep. 7, 2012

Environment chief could mar Noda re-election bid

Hosono urged to run to capture DPJ helm


By MASAMI ITO and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's re-election prospects turned cloudy Thursday as word spread that Environment Minister Goshi Hosono might throw his hat into the Democratic Party of Japan's presidential race.

In an afternoon meeting, a group of 11 rank-and-file members officially asked Hosono, 41, to run for president of the ruling party. Hosono, who doubles as minister in charge of the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis, replied that his priority was the crisis but said he would seriously consider the request.

"I strongly believe that the challenges I must deal with should not be made light of, and because of that, I have been discreet about (entertaining a run) in the presidential election despite some requests," Hosono told group. "My feelings have not changed, but I would like to consider it and get back to you with a response."

Campaigning for the DPJ poll begins Monday, leaving Hosono little time to decide, let alone prepare, for the Sept. 21 poll.

Members concerned about the party's prospects in the next general election, which could be called as early as autumn, have pinned their hopes on the younger Hosono to be the "face" of the party.

Junya Ogawa, one of the 11 members in the meeting with Hosono, told the popular minister that many in the party had high expectations for him.

"There are many lawmakers and party supporters who are waiting for the appearance of a leader who can rebuild the party from its current state of adversity and who can show us the future of Japan's parties," Ogawa said.

Noda is expected to formally declare his candidacy Friday, but disgruntlement with his policies, including the sales tax hike, along with his slowly disintegrating popularity might sway party sentiment toward Hosono should he choose to run.

The leading opposition party meanwhile finds itself in the same situation, but with a confusing number of options.

The Liberal Democratic Party's leadership search accelerated this week as LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki's re-election chances also dimmed. Two of the candidates eyeing his seat are nationalist former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 57, and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 55.

Abe and Ishiba jointly launched a study group on territorial issues Thursday morning, signalling that the two sides might cooperate in the LDP's Sept. 26 election.

"Honestly, I had the impression that we have a lot in common in the way we use words and develop logic," Ishiba said.

But Abe is a member of the party's largest faction, which is led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, who has also hinted he will run.

Tanigaki's leadership is under fire for his failure to force Noda to dissolve the Lower House. He has already lost the support of the party's heavyweights, including ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Makoto Koga, his faction leader, who apparently favors LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara, 55.



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