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Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012

DPJ re-elects Noda as chief despite rifts

Leader vows to rebuild feuding party, seek end to nuclear power

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was re-elected president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan with an overwhelming majority Friday, and immediately vowed to rebuild the divided party and completely abolish nuclear power by the 2030s.

He is now expected to reshuffle the Cabinet as early as Oct. 1, a government source said.

Noda easily saw off the challenges of his rival candidates — former farm ministers Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano, and former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi — amassing a total of 818 of the 1,231 points based on valid votes cast by DPJ's lawmakers, local assembly members and supporters nationwide at an extraordinary party convention held in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Haraguchi came in a distant second, garnering just 154 points, followed by Akamatsu with 123 points and Kano with 113.

Because the DPJ altered the rules for the presidential race, Noda becomes its first leader elected to serve a three-year term, instead of two. But as the next general election must be held by August 2013 and the party is expected to be ousted from power, it remains unclear how long Noda will remain in the post.

In a speech to the convention, Noda stressed his determination to reunite and strengthen the party, which has been riven by a number of contentious policies, especially the sales tax hike and Japan's possible entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord.

"I tried to create strong teamwork in the DPJ, but in the end I ended up causing concern among everyone," Noda conceded.

"While feeling a strong sense of responsibility, I would like to change the DPJ so it can once again become a strong leading force to re-energize Japan."

After his re-election, the prime minister announced that he will choose new executives for the party before his departure Monday to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

He also mentioned the possibility of reshuffling the Cabinet, but refused to say whether or not would offer any posts to his three presidential rivals.

"It's possible that I could decide on (a reshuffle) to strengthen the functions of the Cabinet . . . and I intend to choose the right people for the job," Noda said.

His re-election was widely considered a given after former DPJ power broker Ichiro Ozawa, Noda's archrival, quit the party with around 50 of his followers in July.

But strong resentment against Noda within the DPJ's ranks continues to linger, especially because about 70 members have departed under his leadership, putting the party's majority in the Lower House in a precarious position.

"Even when the nation or the party was split in half over certain policies, I had to make tough decisions and have felt the pain and gravity (of the situation) throughout the year. . . . I would like to continue making decisions for the country and the people together with everyone" in the DPJ, Noda stressed.

Following the vote, Haraguchi told reporters that he intends to stay in the DPJ and pledged to do his best to persuade certain lawmakers who are threatening to leave the party to change their minds.

"My feelings have not changed — I intend to work as a rank-and-file member. . . . I will make sure that we restore the party's unity," Haraguchi said. "I plan to approach the lawmakers (considering quitting) and to tell them that opportunities come around more than once."

During his speech, Noda also stressed that the DPJ is ready to reverse its energy policy to end Japan's addiction to nuclear power. Before the Fukushima disaster, the party was pushing for a substantial increase in atomic energy.

"We will aim to create a society to reduce the nation's reliance on nuclear power to zero by the 2030s. I will implement various measures under this basic policy without wavering," Noda promised.

"This is a major policy change for us and I would like to ask for the cooperation of each and every one of our party members in order to realize this goal."

On the territorial disputes that have flared anew with China and South Korea over the Senkaku and Takeshima islands, Noda said: "What is important is to maintain a resolute attitude and say what we need to say without giving in. We will neither provoke nor be provoked, and will coolly deal with the issues with a comprehensive viewpoint."

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The Japan Times

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