Kan, Ozawa kick off DPJ poll race

Incumbent hits rival's image; kingpin vows Futenma rethink

by Alex Martin and Kanako Takahara

Campaigning officially kicked off Wednesday for the Sept. 14 Democratic Party of Japan presidential election, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan trying to keep the helm and DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa seeking to wrest it from him.

The two faced reporters at the New Otani hotel in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward and laid down their goals and fielded questions, with Kan, who unlike his rival is not dogged by scandal, underscoring that the poll winner would be prime minister.

Ozawa vowed to restore pledges the DPJ made when it came to power a year ago, including reviving the Futenma base debate and spending to double the child allowance.

“I believe it is time for Mr. Ozawa to tell the public exactly what kind of prime minister he intends to become,” Kan said of his rival, who twice quit key DPJ posts due to funds scandals. “And based on this, I would like to ask the public to help decide who is better suited to lead this nation.”

Kan said creating more jobs was key to reviving the nation’s sagging economy and to alleviating the public’s anxiety over their future. He also called for further debate on tax reforms, including a potential consumption tax hike in order to cover the nation’s ballooning social security costs.

His platform also stressed the need to pursue clean and open politics by banning corporate donations and cutting the number of Diet lawmakers.

Ozawa promised to stick to the promises the DPJ made during last summer’s general election, including reviewing the government’s ¥207 trillion budgets for the general and special-purpose accounts. He pledged to cut wasteful spending in order to finance those campaign promises.

“I threw my hat in the ring in the strong belief that a system should be created where politicians decide the policies and budgets,” he said.

His platform revived a pledge to double the current ¥13,000 monthly child care allowance to ¥26,000 by fiscal 2012. Fiscal realities had recently pressured the DPJ to retreat from this vow.

Ozawa also promised to renew talks with Washington and Okinawa over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in order to reach a solution acceptable to both Okinawans and America.

“Although I cannot give specific details on what I have in mind at this point, I believe a solution could be reached through thorough discussions,” he said.

Earlier in the day, representatives for Kan and Ozawa visited DPJ headquarters to file the pair’s candidacies, submitting the required list of over 20 Diet lawmakers endorsing each candidate.

Ozawa later attended a rally of roughly 100 lawmakers, calling for their unwavering support.

“I promise to dedicate my utmost effort, considering (the election) as the culmination of my long experience in politics and my last service to the public,” he said to cheers and applause.

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama meanwhile met with his intraparty group and reaffirmed their decision to back Ozawa, although reports have indicated some lawmakers have already expressed their neutrality in the race.

Urging party unity, Hatoyama acted as Kan and Ozawa’s go-between in recent days, trying to have Ozawa back out of the presidential race in return for a key party post.

But no backroom deal was reached, and the party now faces an election that could rock the administration and deeply split the party.

At a morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, a vocal critic of Ozawa, said he expected lawmakers to reflect the voice of the public when casting their vote.

Kan has eclipsed Ozawa as the popular choice for prime minister in recent public opinion polls.

“I would like to see (the) top leader chosen through a fair election, where the candidates engage in debates on the many issues our nation currently faces,” Sengoku said.

The Sept. 14 election will be the DPJ’s first major presidential race since 2002. It will be open to DPJ Diet lawmakers, regional assembly members and the estimated 350,000 registered party members nationwide, with a lump of points allocated to each bloc.

DPJ Diet members, who currently number 412, will each receive one vote worth 2 points, meaning they will account for 824 points. Regional assembly members will share 100 points, while the rank-and-file members will be responsible for 300 points.

The winning candidate must garner a majority of the total 1,224 points.

With Ozawa said to lead the party’s largest faction, of 150 lawmakers, and with the Hatoyama’s group of roughly 50 lawmakers, analysts say Ozawa might have a slight lead over Kan in lawmaker votes.

But with his money scandal still in the wings and with Hatoyama’s faction lacking solidarity, the race may turn out to be a nail-biter.

Kan, in turn, has the backing of land minister Seiji Maehara and Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s intraparty groups, and combined with lawmakers from his own group, expects the backing of roughly 120 lawmakers.

Political commentator Harumi Arima said he expects Kan to be the victor.

Many rookie lawmakers considered to be under the influence of Ozawa and Hatoyama have not yet decided who to vote for, Arima said. But he warned that an Ozawa loss would spark a political shift.

“There’s no point in Ozawa remaining (in the party) . . . his political career will end” if he loses the election, Arima said, adding Ozawa would probably try to join hands with the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force and one he used to belong to, if he quit the DPJ.

“If that happened, political realignment would occur,” he said.

If Ozawa wins, he would be the third DPJ prime minister in a year.