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Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012
DPJ holds debate while Noda maintains lead
By MASAMI ITO
The Democratic Party of Japan's presidential campaign continued Wednesday with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda still in the lead.
Noda and his rivals, former farm ministers Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano, and former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, held a public debate hosted by the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, but the discussion lacked heat as the three challengers took turns criticizing Noda.
While Noda appears to have a comfortable lead, he still faces the major task of rebuilding the party after it was torn apart by contentious issues, including the consumption tax hike and whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade initiative.
About 70 Diet members have left the party since Noda took the helm a year ago, most over the tax increase. The DPJ, now down to 245 Lower House lawmakers, is just steps away from losing its majority in the 480-seat chamber.
Noda's three rivals expressed a strong sense of urgency to reunite the party and regain the public's trust.
"As the head of the party, I am keenly aware of my responsibility that many people left and our party is still badly damaged . . . but what I did was for the people's lives and future and I don't think the decision was wrong," Noda stressed. "There are still many remaining problems that I must deal with and it is my job to overcome them without abandoning them half-done."
Although a majority in the party, including Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara, appears to support Noda's re-election, some in the DPJ's ranks are oppose his policies and are also afraid he will dissolve the Lower House in the near future and call a snap election that the DPJ would likely lose.
To appeal to such voters, both Akamatsu and Kano have stated that they would push back the general election as far as possible, while Noda reiterated that he won't reveal a specific time-frame.
Haraguchi, whose main policies are in clear contrast with Noda's, criticized how the prime minister publicly announced the purchase of the disputed Senkaku Islands a day after meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao in Russia. China lashed out immediately at Japan, calling the sale "illegal and invalid."
"You just don't do that sort of thing when considering diplomatic ties. We have our position . . . but the most important thing is to make sure that we take the other side's position firmly into consideration . . . and create a win-win situation without driving the other country into a corner," Haraguchi said.