Challenge Ozawa for sake of DPJ, Maehara urges

by Kazuaki Nagata

The Democratic Party of Japan should hold a genuine presidential election next month in order to enliven policy debate, former DPJ President Seiji Maehara, who quit his post over a political blunder two years ago, said Wednesday.

“I think (the current situation) is the closest in this past decade our party has come to (winning control of) the government,” Maehara said Wednesday at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Because the new party boss will be expected to lead the party during the next general election, the DPJ presidential race — campaigning for which starts Sept. 8 — will be a key event, he said.

Maehara is now a vice president of the largest opposition party.

It is likely that current leader Ichiro Ozawa — although he has not yet officially thrown his hat into the ring — will be reinstalled without a vote as no one has emerged to challenge him.

Maehara has repeatedly pushed for holding an election, arguing that genuine policy debate among the candidates will help make clear to voters what the DPJ intends to do if it ever came to power.

“It is unfortunate that no one has stood up to run against Mr. Ozawa,” Maehara said.

Maehara resigned the top party post in 2006 to take responsibility for mishandling a political scandal that erupted when party member Hisayasu Nagata mistakenly and repeatedly accused a ruling coalition lawmaker of having received money from scandal-tainted Internet firm Livedoor Co.

Nagata’s claim was based on what he believed was a copy of an e-mail exchange between Livedoor workers. Maehara stood behind Nagata, but in the end they were unable to prove the messages were genuine.

“(A Lower House election) will happen within a year at the outside, but it could happen by the end of this year. Given the situation, I think it would be good to have vigorous debates about policy and Diet session plans during the party’s presidential election,” Maehara said.

“But obviously, there are people who have a different opinion,” he said.

Indeed, an apparent majority of DPJ members believe Ozawa, who plays his policy cards close to the vest, should remain in charge since it was under his watch that the opposition camp, led by the DPJ, took control of the Upper House last year.

Potential candidates, including former party leader Katsuya Okada and Yukio Edano, ex-chairman of the DPJ’s policy research committee, have kept themselves out of the election spotlight.

Yoshihiko Noda, the party’s former Diet affairs chief, expressed interest in running, but backed out last week after some in his group opposed his plan.

Nor does Maehara himself plan to run.

“I have said that I won’t be running for election mainly because I resigned the presidency due to the e-mail scandal,” he said.