Noda victorious in race for prime minister

Fiscal hawk defeats Kaieda in a runoff for DPJ presidency

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda won the Democratic Party of Japan presidency Monday and will replace Naoto Kan as prime minister, becoming the ruling party’s third leader since it swept to power in the historic 2009 general election.

Noda, 54, a known fiscal hawk, is expected to be appointed Japan’s seventh prime minister in six years at the Diet on Tuesday after the Kan Cabinet resigns en masse. Although the Upper House is controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party-led opposition camp, the more powerful Lower House, which is in the hands of the DPJ and its small ally, Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), will have the final say.

Noda defeated trade minister Banri Kaieda in a runoff after winning 215 of the 392 eligible votes cast. Kaieda received 177.

The runoff was forced after none of the five candidates won a majority in the first round of voting, leaving the two top finalists, Noda and Kaieda, to battle it out.

Noda proved victorious after the other candidates, including farm minister Michihiko Kano and former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, threw the support of their factions behind him.

Kaieda was backed by disgraced former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa and his roughly 120 allies, as well as former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Maehara, who was considered most popular with the public, came in third with 74 votes, while Kano got 52 and ex-transport minister Sumio Mabuchi 24 in the first round.

Noda can serve as DPJ president, and prime minister, until September 2012.

“I want to do a job that makes the public think it was good that there was a political power shift” by confronting issues including the Fukushima nuclear crisis, reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, the strong yen and deflation, said Noda.

Noda wants to raise taxes to combat Japan’s ballooning debt — now twice the size of its gross domestic product — and finance the massive costs that will be incurred by Japan’s largest reconstruction effort since its rebound from World War II.

Noda, who is supported by Kan, Ozawa’s rival, also stressed the importance of party unity. “Let’s stop taking sides,” he said. “If the DPJ loses power and falls apart, it will just please the old (conservative LDP) regime. Should we allow it to get back into office?” he asked.

After the victory, Noda pledged to strengthen ties between members of the DPJ, which has long been beset by internal divisions, mainly between pro- and anti-Ozawa lawmakers.

Before the race, Noda signaled that he might form a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to expedite the passage of key bills in the divided Diet. But he avoided mentioning the plan when he faced reporters afterward. He said trust will be a major issue with the opposition.

Noda also said he would announce the new executive lineup and Cabinet as soon as possible.

The DPJ presidential election took place after Kan announced his resignation on Friday after months of vague but withering criticism of his leadership after the March 11 calamity and nuclear plant crisis that delayedimportant legislation needed to help the victims of the nation’s worst postwar disaster.

Key issues in the poll included whether to continue pursuing the promises the DPJ made in the 2009 election, how to come up with funds for disaster reconstruction efforts, and how to avoid gridlock in a legislature whose Upper House is controlled by the opposition camp.

Despite some differences, all five candidates said that pulling Japan out of two decades of economic stagnation is a matter of highest priority and that it won’t be achieved without a speedy rebound from the March disaster.

Nevertheless, at the center of the election was, once again, the struggle for power within the DPJ. The battle was between champions and adversaries of Ozawa, the backroom-dealing “shadow shogun” who heads the party’s largest faction.

Ozawa, also known as “the Destroyer,” was not eligible to vote as his party membership is suspended while he awaits trial over a political funds scandal. But he still holds sway over more than 100 of the DPJs’ Diet members.

Ozawa and his allies have criticized the way Kan ran the party and the government since taking the helm in June last year.

In particular, they say many of Kan’s policies went against the party’s 2009 election campaign pledges, including wresting control of policymaking from the powerful bureaucracy, cutting wasteful spending and putting more cash into people’s hands.

Information from Kyodo added