Candidate Kaieda eases on Ozawa

Reaches out to kingpin loyalists by hinting end to party suspension

by Natsuko Fukue and Masami Ito

Staff Writers

Trade minister Banri Kaieda expressed his intention Friday to run for the Democratic Party of Japan presidency and succeed Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and hinted he may lift the suspension on former party leader Ichiro Ozawa, who will soon go on trial.

With Kan expected to leave office by the end of the month, other potential candidates have also been scurrying for support, including Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and farm minister Michihiko Kano.

But with the recent development that popular ex-DPJ leader Seiji Maehara might also throw his hat into the ring, it is unclear as to who has the early lead.

“I am considering various things, including the current state of the DPJ as well as the situation of the Japanese government since the disaster,” Kaieda told a news conference, adding that he has been exchanging opinions with fellow DPJ lawmakers to get ready to run in the presidential election.

The trade minister also called for party unity, suggesting Kan caused the party to splinter after taking an anti-Ozawa path. In February, the DPJ announced Ozawa’s party membership was being suspended after his mandatory indictment over a political money scandal. Ozawa heads the biggest faction in the DPJ, with about 120 loyalists. Whoever wins its support will get a significant leg up in the race.

“I thought all DPJ members should join forces in an all-out effort to tackle issues, but in reality we couldn’t,” Kaieda said. “I think (the next leader) needs to have the power to unite the party.”

Meanwhile, a group of senior DPJ lawmakers made an official request to farm minister Kano to run for party president. But he wouldn’t say whether he will or won’t enter the race.

“This is the gravest request in my political career,” Kano said after the group handed him a written request. “I need time to think it over carefully.”

Kano is a veteran lawmaker who doesn’t belong to one of the DPJ’s factions, but 30 lawmakers including vice farm minister Nobutaka Tsutsui joined the group to support him.

One of the key questions facing the candidates is whether they would try to form a grand coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party, a move said necessary by critics amid the divided Diet.

Kano is not a strong advocate of this, but Noda has repeatedly stressed the importance of collaborating with the opposition.

“I think everyone understands that we must directly face the opposition parties — otherwise, we will be forced into a very difficult situation in which the budget won’t get passed,” Noda said.