After a fierce two-week campaign, Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday defeated Democratic Party of Japan bigwig Ichiro Ozawa in the ruling party’s presidential election, securing his post and avoiding yet another leadership change.
Kan and Ozawa basically split the votes cast by DPJ lawmakers, but Kan pulled away with overwhelming support from general party members and regional assembly members. He received 721 points to Ozawa’s 491 in the party’s voting system.
Kan campaigned on greater fiscal austerity, job creation and a possible consumption tax hike, while Ozawa called for aggressive government spending. Attention is now focused on whether Kan can hold the party together and preserve his political clout to implement his election pledges.
Many party members still fear Ozawa and his followers could split the party and destabilize the government.
“As my senior, Mr. Ozawa has taught me many things. Now that the election is over, there will be no sides, as I have promised,” Kan said after the election in a call for party unity.
“I am ready to do my best to build a united party where all DPJ members can work up to their full potential.”
Later in the day, Kan praised Ozawa for his knowledge of policy affairs but stressed that he has not made any personnel decisions.
“I have no preconceived ideas for now” on who he will tap for key party or Cabinet posts, Kan said. “I would like to think about it after I meet with former party leaders as early as tomorrow.”
Under party regulations, Kan is to serve as DPJ president, and effectively prime minister, until September 2012 when he will face another presidential election.
Kan won the race with strong support from rank-and-file party members, who didn’t want to see yet another new national leader, but 200 of the DPJ’s 411 Diet members still voted for Ozawa, apparently believing he be a stronger leader.
The disparity was most evident in the votes allocated to general party supporters, with 249 of 300 points in this bloc going to Kan.
Ozawa also failed to win the support of regional assembly members, who awarded 60 out of a total of 100 points to Kan.
Ozawa again lost out to Kan in the area where the DPJ kingpin expected to overshadow the prime minister — among Diet lawmakers, who with two points each accounted for the majority of points in the contest.
Of the 406 valid votes and 812 points allocated to this bloc, Kan won the support of 206 lawmakers, good for 412 points, while Ozawa received votes from 200 lawmakers.
With the election over, focus now shifts to how Kan will reshuffle the Cabinet and party leadership — and to whether he will give Ozawa an important government or party role.
Kan hinted during the campaign he might grant Ozawa a key party post related to election affairs.
Speaking to reporters following the election, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who supported Ozawa, said he was willing to cooperate to achieve party unity and hinted that he expected Kan to grant Ozawa an important post.
“The two shook hands firmly, and I’d like to interpret the meaning of that handshake in my own terms,” he said.
Veteran lawmaker Kozo Watanabe also stressed party unity, saying it is important to “forget who won and concentrate on placing the right people in the right jobs.”
But former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka warned that Kan has a difficult job ahead.
“I have a feeling Japan will continue sinking unless Mr. Kan is firm in steering the nation to avoid mistakes,” she said.
Kan remains in charge of a nation suffering from a sagging economy and numerous other worrisome issues, including a high yen.
During the campaign, Kan emphasized the need to create more jobs to revive the economy. He has also called for further debate on tax reforms, including a potential consumption tax hike to cover 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.
But with the DPJ lacking a majority in the Upper House and facing a divided Diet, passing legislation will be difficult without cooperation from the opposition.
The election took place at a large hall in the Prince Park Tower Tokyo Hotel in Minato Ward.
Before lawmakers began casting their votes, Kan and Ozawa each delivered a final 15-minute speech.
“I wanted to inform the public that I believe it will be too late if we don’t change our political system right now,” Ozawa said.