It’s official — Ozawa, Kan will compete for DPJ presidency

by Masami Ito

above

News photo
Ichiro Ozawa – and Naoto Kan face reporters separately in Tokyo.

News photo

Ozawa, 63, a former Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight with a reputation for backroom dealing, and Kan, 59, two-time DPJ president and ex-health minister, held separate news conferences to announce they would run in Friday’s presidential poll.

The main opposition party hopes the poll will give them a leader who will help restore the DPJ’s credibility with voters, after Seiji Maehara quit the helm March 31 over the fiasco involving the party’s attempt to discredit LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe with a fake e-mail purporting a shady funds transfer to him from arrested Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie.

Ozawa said the DPJ was at a very critical point and he hoped to take the helm to reorganize the party so it could be a viable alternative to the long-ruling LDP.

“I believe that changing government power is the true reform,” said Ozawa, a former LDP secretary general and one-time leader of the now defunct Liberal Party and New Frontier Party.

“After nearly half a century, the structure, the way of thinking and the measures of (early postwar politics) do not correspond to the new era,” Ozawa said. Conditions are changing daily, “and alterations in the government, administration, economy and society must be made according to the changing times.”

Although it was rumored that Ozawa might step up after the Sept. 11 general election, when then DPJ leader Katsuya Okada stepped down to take responsibility for the party’s severe setback to the LDP, he failed to emerge.

Touching on the sensitive issue of revising the pacifist Constitution, Ozawa said he favors amendment.

“The Constitution is the fundamental rule for people to live in society,” Ozawa said. “If the rule no longer suits the lives of the general public due to changing times, it should be changed. That goes for regular laws as well as the Constitution.”

In a separate news conference at a Tokyo hotel later Wednesday, Kan, who has served twice as DPJ chief, called for party unity.

“No matter what the poll outcome, all members of the party should be united under the new leader and create a system that allows senior, middle-aged and young members to do their best,” Kan said.

When asked, Kan set aside the question of whether his and Ozawa’s leadership style differ, and instead said the two must cooperate and challenge the LDP.

Kan meanwhile criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administrative reform, saying failed to slash wasteful public spending.

He also condemned Koizumi’s foreign policy, saying he leans too much toward the U.S. “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, DPJ lawmaker Yoshinori Suematsu also announced his candidacy amid the heavily reported “one-on-one” battle between Ozawa and Kan.

Suematsu, an ex-diplomat who has been elected four times to the Lower House, said it is time for younger party members to stand up with courage and energy.

But he admitted he was still trying to get the needed backing of at least 20 of the 192 DPJ lawmakers eligible to vote Friday to put his name on the ballot.

“I believe that courage is lacking in the DPJ at the moment,” Suematsu told a news conference earlier Wednesday. “I want to create a stir. If young members (can’t rise) up, will the DPJ survive? Will (the party) be able to fulfill its duties to the public?”