Okada vows to lead DPJ to power, balances factions with picks

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Democratic Party of Japan chief Katsuya Okada pledged Monday to lead the main opposition force to victory in the next general election of the House of Representatives so it can take power.

Okada made the pledge at a party convention as he was installed for a new term as DPJ chief.

Last month, Okada was returned unopposed after serving in the post for three months since his predecessor, Naoto Kan, stepped down in May after it was revealed he had failed to pay his mandatory pension premiums. Okada’s new term runs through the end of September 2006.

“I feel proud to have been selected as DPJ leader by consensus,” Okada told the convention at a Tokyo hotel. “My only and biggest task is to turn the DPJ into a party of the people that serves in the mainstream of Japanese politics and to realize a change of regime in the next general election.”

Okada formed the new party executive and shadow Cabinet lineup in a way that will largely maintain a factional balance, but key heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa is conspicuously not among them.

The DPJ convention approved Tatsuo Kawabata as the successor to DPJ Secretary General Hirohisa Fujii, Yoshio Hachiro to succeed Kawabata as the party’s Diet affairs chief and Yoshito Sengoku to remain the policy chief. Fujii, who turned down repeated requests from Okada to stay on as secretary general, became deputy party chief.

Okada meanwhile appointed Kan as shadow transport minister, former party chief Yukio Hatoyama as foreign minister, and Takahiro Yokomichi, a former Socialist lawmaker, as welfare minister.

“I believe a very well-balanced lineup was formed, particularly with Kan, Hatoyama and Yokomichi joining (the shadow Cabinet),” Okada told a news conference following the convention.

However, Ozawa, a former deputy party chief, declined an offer to head the party’s election campaigns, apparently due to strained relations with Okada due to differences over defense and other issues.

Fujii, a close ally of Ozawa, recently denied rumors of friction between Okada and Ozawa, claiming Ozawa is merely trying as a senior politician to educate Okada. Ozawa would have vied against Okada in the party presidential race if there had been a falling out, Fujii said.

Political commentator Minoru Morita said Okada should “evasively and flexibly” deal with Ozawa — letting him do and say what he wants to let him look good, while not caving in to his demands when it comes to key policies.

“Ozawa always makes trouble and keeps disturbing things because he cannot keep still by nature,” Morita said. “Ozawa has lost to Okada. . . . He is now considered an eccentric with few supporters within the party.”

For the DPJ to beat the Liberal Democratic Party and become the ruling party, Morita said Okada should place greater stress on domestic policies, including employment and regional economies, instead of foreign and national security policies, where the DPJ and LDP overlap.

On Monday, Okada pledged to select the DPJ’s candidates for all 300 single-seat constituencies in the Lower House by the end of March and strive to win 180 electoral districts in the next general election.

He also urged the ruling coalition to convene an extraordinary Diet session as soon as possible to deliberate on issues such as the government’s contentious pension reform legislation, a political donations scandal involving the Japan Dental Association and some LDP lawmakers, and last month’s crash of a U.S. military helicopter in Okinawa.