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Ichiro Ozawa, the embattled leader of Shinshinto, will face new challenges in December when the largest opposition party is expected to elect its next chief.

Michihiko Kano, the party’s chief of public relations, announced Friday his wish to run for the top post, saying Shinshinto should become a “healthy opposition party” by completely renewing its management roster.

Kano has been critical of Ozawa’s quest for a conservative alliance with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “Shinshinto has not played its role as the largest opposition party,” Kano told a hastily arranged news conference Friday. “I have decided to act to restructure this party to make it a strong enough force to replace the ruling LDP.”

Kano, a former chief of the Management and Coordination Agency, said he will resign that post and concentrate on gaining support from rank and file members. When told of Kano’s announcement, Ozawa said now is not the time to start thinking about the election for party leader because the party must first contest an Upper House by-election in Miyagi Prefecture. But in general, he said he welcomes competition for the party’s top post.

However, Takeo Nishioka, Shinshinto secretary general, criticized Kano’s announcement. After Kano handed in his resignation as public relations chief, Nishioka said his decision to run — at a time when the party needs to be united to win in Miyagi — will adversely influence the by-election as well as the party. Nishioka also said that Kano’s criticism of the party management is off the mark.

Although Kano says Shinshinto is not playing its role as the largest opposition party, Nishioka said the party is trying to do so by making efforts to cooperate with other opposition parties in the current extraordinary Diet sessions. Kano is one of the key members who created the Reform Council study group in August with members from the Democratic Party of Japan and the Taiyo Party in a bid to implement genuine reforms.

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