Kan chats up Ozawa’s DPJ rookie ranks

Overture ahead of leadership race

by Alex Martin

Prime Minister Naoto Kan made a bold gesture Monday by reaching out to junior Democratic Party of Japan ranks considered faithful to DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, who rumor has it may run against Kan for the party presidency next month and hence seek the prime ministership.

Many first-year Diet members were coached by Ozawa and are considered part of his intraparty group. But Kan’s chances of retaining the DPJ helm would be significantly boosted if he could persuade this crowd into backing him.

So far Ozawa, who stepped down as DPJ secretary general last June and the presidency in spring 2009, both due to financial scandals, has been noncommittal about entering the party’s Sept. 14 presidential race.

During his meeting with freshman lawmakers in the morning, Kan floated the idea of simultaneously holding the elections for both Diet chambers in 2013, participants later told reporters.

This remark was taken as an indication that Kan has no plans to dissolve the Lower House in the near future despite mounting calls from the opposition camp after the DPJ-led ruling bloc lost its majority in the Upper House election last month.

The DPJ’s setback was partly attributed to Kan’s pre-election suggestion that doubling the consumption tax to 10 percent may have merit, using the rate target set by the Liberal Democratic Party, which, ironically, gained seats in the election.

Talking about elections three years down the line makes no political sense for Kan since his stint could end next month if Ozawa, who has the DPJ’s largest faction behind him, should run in and win the presidential election.

Kan was planning to host six meetings by Wednesday with the party’s 144 Lower House members and 13 Upper House lawmakers.

The Sept. 14 presidential election will be the first major leadership race for the DPJ since 2002, with voting open not only to Diet lawmakers but also to regional assembly members and the estimated 350,000 DPJ party members and supporters registered nationwide.

During a morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said he hopes the presidential race will feature substantive debate on the many problems facing Japan.

“I believe all DPJ lawmakers should sit down and listen to the voices of the public and discuss . . . the proper direction to steer our nation,” he said.

Kan at present is the only lawmaker to openly declare his candidacy, and Ozawa would face strong opposition from factions within the party demanding that he keep a lower profile, particularly because, with former aides having been indicted over money scandals, he too is not out of the legal woods.

But in an apparent move to garner support, Ozawa last Thursday showed up at a seminar held by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, attended by some 100 DPJ lawmakers, including those from the Hatoyama and Ozawa factions.

Although Ozawa refrained from specifically commenting on whether he will enter the presidential race, his appearance aroused speculation that he might announce his candidacy soon.

Ozawa is expected to deliver a speech at a political seminar he will host Wednesday that is expected to see a significant turnout of DPJ lawmakers.

Former DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka indicated on a Sunday political talk show he may meet Thursday or Friday with Ozawa and solicit his candidacy, depending on what Ozawa says at the seminar and if a consensus is reached among DPJ lawmakers that he should run. Yamaoka is close to Ozawa.