With Naoto Kan’s days as prime minister apparently numbered, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda emerged Thursday as a key candidate to succeed Kan.
According to media reports, Noda has received the backing of key leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, including Secretary General Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
Considered a fiscal hawk and an advocate of raising the consumption tax, Noda is among the few party executives untainted by scandal.
No less significantly, he has few enemies within the DPJ — a plus as the party struggles to hold together during an internal power struggle centered on former party leader Ichiro Ozawa.
“I have known Finance Minister Noda for a long time. . . . I think he is very dependable and works steadily,” said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama, who refused to comment directly on the candidacy.
According to Kyodo News, the executives favoring Noda also want to see Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito take over as party secretary general under Noda.
The DPJ presidential election is expected as early as July if Kan steps down by the end of this month, as opposition forces are demanding.
Noda, who has served as finance minister in the Kan Cabinet since last June, is expected to maintain most of Kan’s key policies if he becomes the next DPJ president, and thus the prime minister.
As finance minister, Noda has pushed for raising the consumption tax to cover growing social security costs.
Noda’s candidacy could be helped if other DPJ and opposition members get behind his fiscal and tax policies. Also working in his favor, the 54-year-old has connections on both sides of the aisle in the divided Diet.
Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University, said Noda fits the bill for the next DPJ leader: someone who can form a grand coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party and yet doesn’t stand out enough to threaten opposition lawmakers or bureaucrats.
“I think Noda is definitely a possibility. There are voices within the DPJ and bureaucrats hoping for Noda and he doesn’t put the LDP on guard,” Kawakami said.
There has also been speculation that farm minister Michihiko Kano, former Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa, and Shinji Tarutoko, former chairman of the DPJ Diet Affairs Committee, might also run for the DPJ presidency.
Despite remaining mum, it is believed Noda is eyeing a run.
On Thursday during deliberations in a Lower House Diet committee, Kan reiterated he wants to stay in the post until his administration sees tangible results in coping with postquake reconstruction.
“I would like to fulfill my duties until the situation reaches a certain point over temporary housing . . . the clearing of the debris and the resolution of the nuclear power plant,” Kan said.
Later Thursday, DPJ supreme adviser Kozo Watanabe told reporters that Kan should step down as soon as possible.
The veteran lawmaker said Kan should exit in exchange for the passage of a key bill to issue deficit-covering bonds necessary to execute the 2011 fiscal budget.
“Stepping down as soon as possible after the bill clears the Diet is what is best for the country and for the disaster measures,” Watanabe said.