Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers intensified efforts Friday to whip up support for the two contenders in the ruling party’s presidential election, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and longtime kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.
The battle between the two camps escalated a day after Ozawa’s announcement that he would run in the Sept. 14 poll, which will determine whether Kan can continue to serve as prime minister after only three months in office.
Kan shrugged off widespread concerns the party could be split by Ozawa’s challenge. “I’m sure that all party members will be able to work together after the election,” he said.
Kan will formally announce his candidacy Tuesday evening, party members close to him said. Official campaigning will kick off Wednesday.
Ozawa, who held the party’s No. 2 post of secretary general until June, is focused on garnering votes through major organizations affiliated with the DPJ and his personal ties, while Kan is likely to put more emphasis on appealing to rank and file supporters of the party and the general public.
In the morning, Ozawa met with Yoshifumi Tsuge, who heads the national organization of postmasters, requesting the use of its wide networks to back his poll bid.
Ozawa promised Tsuge that he will seek early passage of a bill to scale back the ongoing postal system privatization if he becomes prime minister, sources at the meeting said.
He also held talks with Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) chief Nobuaki Koga to request cooperation from the DPJ’s largest support group.
Ozawa told Koga he will find an opportunity to explain his view of the money scandal involving his former secretaries to the public.
Ozawa heads the DPJ’s largest intraparty group. But Kan appeared confident Friday he was gaining the upper hand in the battle, telling reporters he “feels uplifted.”
Many opinion polls have shown Kan ahead of Ozawa, possibly because the public has become weary of seeing a rapid succession of prime ministers while the country goes through a prolonged economic slump.
Many Cabinet members expressed support Friday for Kan, but internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi hinted he will back Ozawa.
“I will support the prime minister for his re-election,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters.
Maehara noted it has been only a few months since Ozawa quit the party’s No. 2 post over a political funds scandal, which led to the arrests of three of his aides. DPJ lawmakers “should take into consideration how people react” to the development, he said.
Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda separately said, “It is not clear why (Ozawa) will run.”