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DPJ chief Kaieda digs in, rebuffs calls for presidential election

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda on Thursday confirmed that he still intends to lead the teetering party and spurned mounting calls to hold a leadership election before his term ends in September 2015.

“With careful consideration, I would like to stay on as president,” Kaieda said at a meeting of all DPJ Diet members.

Former Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba was among the members who called for an early election, but Kaieda rejected it.

When the DPJ was crushed in the Upper House election in July last year, Kaieda said he would give up the presidency if he failed to make progress on rebuilding the party within a year. Even before that deadline, however, some members said the DPJ would not fare well under Kaieda in nationwide municipal elections due to be held next spring.

Even prominent members, including Vice President Katsuya Okada, are repeatedly demanding that a presidential election be held before the end of Kaieda’s term.

Kaieda, however, made a concession by agreeing to change the rules by the end of September to let members and supporters vote on whether he should quit prematurely. Kaieda had originally rebuffed that plan, which was proposed by Secretary-General Akihiro Ohata.

Even though Kaieda was adamant about staying in his post, he admitted that the party was far from becoming a viable alternative to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has watched public support tank since the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opted to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to legalize Japan’s use of the long-prohibited right to collective self-defense.

“We all agree that the DPJ is facing its biggest crisis. I am going to share my view on how we can turn this crisis into an opportunity and I would like to hear your opinions, too,” said Kaieda.

A July opinion poll conducted by Jiji Press showed the LDP losing ground after the collective self-defense move, and indicated that more than 65 percent of the public refused to back any particular party. But this is still far above the DPJ’s low support rate, which is hovering just below 5 percent.

While the DPJ and other parties are angling to realign the opposition camp before local elections next spring, its clout is diminishing due to constant breakups. A DPJ panel of experts and branch representatives has recommended the party focus on rebuilding itself rather than pursuing any realignment.