Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday he and his rival hope to continue working together regardless of who wins the Democratic Party of Japan presidential election.
Kan is facing off against DPJ strongman Ichiro Ozawa in the Sept. 14 poll, the winner of which will also be prime minister.
But with the candidates going after each other, there is much concern over what will come after, with some predicting the loser may leave the ruling party. And if this is Ozawa, the speculation goes, he would exit with his allies, causing further disarray and potentially bringing about a political realignment.
Kan brushed off such worries, saying that once the election is over there will be “no sides.”
“I talked to Ozawa before the campaign, and have spoken to (others and agreed) that after the election, we won’t be taking sides, but will work together as comrades,” he said during a group interview at DPJ headquarters in Tokyo.
During a Monday television program, Kan hinted that if he is re-elected DPJ president he would grant Ozawa a key party post, saying he “would be delighted if (Ozawa) could work in his area of specialty.”
The gesture was seen as a ploy by Kan to win over still-undecided DPJ lawmakers.
But when asked Tuesday about his true intent behind the comment, Kan merely said personnel decisions should be made by the next party president, without elaborating.
Whoever emerges as the winner, the DPJ still faces a divided Diet because the bloc it leads lost its Upper House majority in the July 11 election.
Although Kan declined comment on potential coalition partner candidates, he stressed that he believes a bipartisan consensus can be reached through careful deliberation on policies related to important topics such as the economy and social security.
In his platform for the DPJ presidency, Kan stresses the importance of creating more jobs as a way to revive the economy. He reiterated this during the interview and said he intends for employment to be a central theme in the administration’s growth strategy.
Recent opinion polls by major newspapers give Kan an overwhelming lead over Ozawa as the public’s preferred leader.
But the majority of votes in the presidential election will be cast by the DPJ’s 412 Diet members. And with the number of lawmakers supporting each candidate in close reach of one another, it is still too early to predict a winner.
According to party rules, each of the DPJ’s 412 lawmakers can cast one vote, which will count as two points. Another 100 points go to the party’s local assembly members, while 300 points are allotted to the roughly 350,000 party members and supporters.
But a minor controversy has erupted as it became clear that resident foreigners could take part in the election by becoming a DPJ supporter.
Party rules stipulate that foreigners living in Japan can become supporters by paying an annual fee of either ¥6,000 or ¥2,000.
Critics have argued this lets foreigners vote for the DPJ president, and, while the party is in power, effectively the prime minister.
While Kan said he has no intention of revising the rule at this point in the campaign, he hinted at a future rethink.
“If it is deemed necessary, we can have discussions after the presidential election on whether (the rule) should remain as is,” he said.