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Kunio Hatoyama, deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, received his party’s backing as an independent candidate Tuesday for April’s Tokyo gubernatorial race, following Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima’s surprise announcement the previous day that he would not seek re-election.

The decision was made by DPJ leader Naoto Kan and deputy Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama, Kunio Hatoyama’s elder brother, at a meeting Tuesday evening at DPJ headquarters, party sources said. “(He) will be the strongest candidate if he decides to run in the poll,” Hatoyama said of his younger brother.

Earlier, it was hinted by top officials that Hatoyama, a seven-term member of the Lower House and a former education minister, would also receive backing from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a cooperative move. The possibility was echoed by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, head of the LDP, when he said that party rivalries should not play a significant role in choosing the next mayor. “In general, local elections are not the place for political parties to compete,” Obuchi said to reporters at the Official Residence.

Nevertheless, the decision to run Hatoyama as an independent rather than on a DPJ ticket is likely to boost his chances of gaining support from other political groups, such as Komeito.

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