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Saturday, Sep. 8, 2012
Hosono bows out, giving Noda a boost
Keeping helm of sliding DPJ may backfire in next general election
By MASAMI ITO and NATSUKO FUKUE
With Environment Minister Goshi Hosono's announcement Friday that he won't seek the Democratic Party of Japan's presidency, it looks like Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will not have too much trouble keeping his seat.
Noda meanwhile formally announced he will run in the Sept. 21 DPJ election, vowing to continue to implement fiscal and administrative reform measures as well as pushing forward reconstruction from the March 2011 disasters and nuclear crisis.
"I can't leave half-done these issues that are so important for Japan," Noda said. "I will continue to wrestle with Japan's remaining problems and work to overcome them, beginning with the incomplete reforms and midway restoration from the disasters."
But once again the prime minister refused to specify the timing of the dissolution of the Lower House. Analysts believe he may be ready to call a snap election once key bills, including the deficit-covering bond bill necessary to execute 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget and legislation to rectify the vote-value disparity, clear the Diet.
"I have only one thing to say regarding the dissolution of the lower chamber — I will seek the judgment of the people once I have done everything necessary. Nothing more and nothing less," Noda said.
Earlier Friday, Noda met with Hosono, also the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, who told him he would not run in the race, and instead, continue focusing on the reconstruction of the disaster area. Hosono also later told reporters he intended to support Noda's bid for re-election.
"I thought long and hard, but I can't neglect my current duties," Hosono said after the meeting. "New problems surface on a daily basis in the disaster area and I must continue to deal with them. . . . My conclusion is I must face the people in the disaster area."
Voices within the DPJ supporting Hosono grew stronger in the past few days, especially among the rank and file who fear their chances for re-election in the next Lower House poll are slim, especially with the unpopular Noda at the helm.
With someone like the popular Hosono leading the party, who at 41 is still young and would be seen as the "new face of the DPJ," they were hoping to raise their re-election prospects.
Hosono was believed the only realistic choice to take on Noda.
Another potential candidate, former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, is one of the tax-hike opponents and would likely get the support of like-minded DPJ members. But the majority of the party can be expected to favor Noda, who is already the party's third leader since it rose to power in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party, whose presidential poll is set for Sept. 26, can expect a crowded field, including current LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki and ex-Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.
This is a very important race for the largest opposition force because it is hoping the new leader will help the party knock the DPJ off its throne and regain control of the government.
Tanigaki's re-election, however, is in doubt, as many party members fault his leadership and his failure to force Noda into dissolving the Lower House.
"It is my mission to bring the LDP back into power. . . . I don't think it will be long before an election is held, and I think we are well within the range" of winning, Tanigaki said. "I believe it is the responsibility of the leader of the opposition party to lead (the fight) and I think I need to . . . break that final wall."
Machimura held a news conference Friday to lay out his policy goals, including increasing the defense budget and amending the Constitution to state Japan's right to defend itself.
A veteran lawmaker who was one of the negotiators with the DPJ and New Komeito on the government's social security and tax reforms, he said the three main parties should keep the promise they made in June to discuss details of the social security system at least until next summer before the next Upper House poll.
"It's time to make use of my various experiences, and I think that's my responsibility," said Machimura, a former education minister, foreign minister and chief Cabinet secretary with 30 years in politics.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who belongs to the faction headed by Machimura, is expected to declare his candidacy next week despite Machimura's repeated requests for him not to.
"I think (Abe's) decision should be respected," Machimura said. "But I'm going to ask him until the last minute" not to run.
Abe, however, still faces harsh criticism within and outside the LDP for quitting as prime minister out of the blue in 2007 due to health reasons, and has yet to officially announce his candidacy. He appears keen to climb back to the top again, however.
Others interested in running include ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who plans to announce his candidacy Monday, party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara and acting policy chief and Upper House member Yoshimasa Hayashi.