DPJ shifts focus to Kan successor

by Masami Ito and Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writers

As the Lower House passed a crucial bill authorizing bond-issuances Thursday, lawmakers in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan accelerated their hunt for a successor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, with former Diet affairs chief Shinji Tarutoko the latest name floated in the Nagata-cho political center.

Tarutoko hinted the same day he might run in the DPJ’s presidential race, which would pick the next prime minister.

“Right now, I am only thinking about doing my best to maintain party unity,” Tarutoko said in a meeting with lawmakers from his faction. But “when the political schedule becomes clear, I would like to make a decision.”

Although he has not yet officially declared his candidacy, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda is widely expected to face opponents in former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi and former Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa.

Later in the day, the bond-issuance bill, one of the conditions set by Kan for his undated exit, was approved in a rare bipartisan vote backed by the DPJ and the two largest opposition parties — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. It now goes to the Upper House for deliberation.

The three parties are also expected to join hands on passing another bill that would promote the use of renewable energy — another precondition for Kan’s exit — through the House of Representatives as early as Friday.

The two bills are expected to be enacted by Aug. 26 and followed immediately by the DPJ presidential poll. The extraordinary Diet session closes Aug. 31.

DPJ executives also started making remarks about what the party plans to do once Kan actually steps down.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada suggested the possibility of forming a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito.

“I don’t think we can rule out the possibility of a partial or grand coalition in the future if the three parties continue to build trust and proceed with consultations,” Okada said.

In the midst of the nation’s worst postwar crisis, the opposition camp has refused to join the coalition with Kan as prime minister, but some have claimed the idea is possible once his successor is in place.

Okada also said a presidential election will be held when Kan officially resigns.

The debt bill, needed to fund a large portion of the initial fiscal 2011 budget, was caught in an unprecedented deadlock for months amid the divided Diet.