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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012
Still smarting, DPJ struggles to regroup
By MASAMI ITO
The chaotic aftermath of its crushing defeat in the Lower House election continued Wednesday to affect the Democratic Party of Japan as it was suddenly forced to change its plans and postpone a presidential election.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced his intention to step down as president after Sunday's devastating loss, and DPJ executives were set to hold a vote for a new leader Saturday and start rebuilding the party.
But after facing strong internal opposition, Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi said the party will reconvene next Tuesday and set the date for the election. He also told the gathering he will resign his executive position.
The DPJ suffered a historic defeat Sunday, going from 230 Lower House lawmakers to just 57 in one fell swoop. A grim-faced Noda stood at the podium Wednesday afternoon and bowed deeply to his colleagues as he expressed remorse over the loss.
"My greatest regret is that we lost many colleagues with promising futures and so many Diet seats. I am the most to blame for this outcome," he said. "I offer my deep, deep apologies. I am truly sorry."
During the first gathering of the party's lawmakers from both Diet chambers since the election, the leadership faced criticism not only over the catastrophic defeat but also for holding the presidential election too soon.
One reason Noda and the executives were in a hurry to choose a new leader was to have someone to vote for in the Dec. 26 special Diet session to select the next prime minister. All lawmakers are expected to vote, usually for their own party leader.
But participants in the DPJ meeting argued that the party should take the time to select its new president carefully. The new No. 1 will not only lead the DPJ but also become the party's public face for the Upper House election next summer.
Satoshi Arai, a former minister in charge of national policy, stated angrily that the DPJ should first hold hearings with its members who lost their seats Sunday as well as the party's prefectural and local assembly members. Arai, one of the party's lawmakers from the DPJ stronghold of Hokkaido, just barely made it back into the Lower House via the proportional representation segment of the election.
"Rebuilding the party means making sure everyone involved feels positive and lively enough to begin again. We went through a truly severe election . . . and in order to firmly break through that difficult wall, we need to reunite with everyone," Arai said. "I think we should elect our new leader at the party convention to be held in the new year."
Party policy chief Goshi Hosono, a 41-year-old popular lawmaker, was among the strongest candidates whose name was floated, but he reportedly denied Wednesday plans to seek the presidency.
Meanwhile, national strategy minister Seiji Maehara, who was also considered a potential candidate, reportedly decided not to run this time. Maehara's group shrunk to nearly half of what it was before Sunday, and key allies, including Yoshito Sengoku, a former chief Cabinet secretary, lost their seats.
A candidate must have the backing of 20 DPJ lawmakers. Given the party's meager strength now, some hopefuls, including former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, may not be able to collect enough support.