Ichiro Ozawa was re-elected Thursday as president of Shinshinto over challenger Michihiko Kano, former head of the Management and Coordination Agency.
The vote, held during a party convention in Tokyo, was 230 to 182 with two abstentions. Two party members cast blank ballots.
Despite winning a new two-year term, Ozawa still faces mounting problems over party management. The focus now shifts to whether Kano and his supporters will remain with the party following this week’s heated campaign.
The election appears to have again brought up the possibility of the largest opposition party breaking. Shinshinto was formed just three years ago in a merger of eight parties and one parliamentary group aimed at countering the powerful Liberal Democratic Party.
“Reflecting on myself and what has happened over the past two years, I, together with party members, will step forward with courage to realize our plans to reform the nation,” Ozawa said soon after his victory was confirmed. Before the election, Ozawa had said he would like to conduct a thorough restructuring of the party, beginning with changes in its name and platform.
Meanwhile, Kano said after the vote that he intends to work even harder to improve Shinshinto, indicating that he will not leave the party.
There were 416 eligible voters: 174 Diet members, 174 representatives of local party chapters and 68 official candidates for the next Lower House election. Two did not turn up to cast their ballots.
The voting started at about 1:30 p.m. and ended shortly after 2 p.m. After their names were called, each voter stepped up to a stage, wrote the name of one of the two candidates, both 55, and cast a ballot.
Before and during the campaign, the battle between Ozawa and Kano became increasingly intensified amid mud-slinging from both sides. Their policy differences were barely addressed. Instead, they focused on whether Shinshinto should cooperate with some elements of the ruling LDP in policy implementation or play a role in uniting all non-Communist opposition forces to effectively counter the LDP.
Ozawa has promoted the conservative alliance while Kano has advocated the opposition union. Both politicians formerly belonged to the LDP. Another factor in the race was whether the voters like or dislike Ozawa, whose management style is often considered arbitrary.
Kano’s popularity was rising sharply toward election day, not because of his own support but because of growing criticism of Ozawa. A number of Shinshinto members voiced concern over whether Kano had sufficient leadership qualities and was capable of managing the party, but they also said that it would be problematic if Ozawa stayed in the position.
Since Ozawa took the helm in December 1995, the party has suffered constant internal strife, mainly because of his much-criticized authoritarian style. During the past two years, more than 40 lawmakers have left the party.
One was former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, who along with Ozawa formed Shinshinto. He led a revolt of 13 members last December to form the Taiyo Party. Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa quit the party in June. Some political observers say Kano and his supporters may leave Shinshinto and form a new party this month, because government subsidies for political parties are calculated as of Jan. 1.