DPJ Diet affairs chief becomes secretary general

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Democratic Party of Japan head Katsuya Okada on Thursday named Tatsuo Kawabata, the party’s Diet affairs chief, to succeed Hirohisa Fujii as secretary general.

Kawabata’s appointment came the morning after Fujii turned down Okada’s repeated requests for him to continue as the party’s No. 2 man, saying he has served in the key post for too long.

Kawabata, who is seen as the leader of the DPJ lawmakers from the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party, agreed to Okada’s request to take the post, saying “Although (the post) comes with great responsibility, I will devote all my energy” to the task.

It was one of three key appointments made before Okada was returned unopposed as party chief last month. He will be formally endorsed by the party at a convention Monday. His present term expires at the end of the month.

Okada chose Deputy Secretary General Yoshio Hachiro, a former member of the Socialist Party of Japan, to succeed Kawabata as Diet affairs chief, and retained Yoshito Sengoku as head of the party’s policy research committee.

By keeping two of the three party executives, who led the DPJ to strong gains in July’s House of Councilors election, in the key posts, Okada has largely managed to counter the shock caused by Fujii’s refusal to stay on as secretary general.

Okada later told a news conference at party headquarters that he made “these (personnel) choices for their quality,” adding, “I didn’t feel the need to drastically change the party executives I chose four months ago.”

Okada assigned the jobs when he assumed the party presidency in May after his predecessor, Naoto Kan, stepped down amid a pension premium nonpayment scandal.

He had hoped to make no changes to the top three posts, so Fujii’s refusal to continue in his position is seen as a shaky start to Okada’s new term.

Fujii’s decision to step down is widely believed to have been backed by some DPJ members who hail from the former Liberal Party, led by political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa. Ties between Okada and Ozawa have become strained in recent weeks over differences of opinion on national security policy.

Fujii, a close ally of Ozawa, has denied speculation that factional strife between the former Liberal Party group and Okada and his followers was the reason he refused to stay on as secretary general.