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Four politicians filed their candidacies Monday for the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election, as the nation’s largest opposition party kicked off two weeks of campaigning.

The four candidates for the Sept. 23 election are: President Yukio Hatoyama; Secretary General Naoto Kan; former Vice President Takahiro Yokomichi, and Yoshihiko Noda, who is representing a younger group of lawmakers.

It is the first time the party’s leaders have run against each other since the 1999 presidential race.

The four contenders met with the press at the party’s head office in Tokyo in the afternoon to express their political views and plans.

Hatoyama, 55, criticized the current administration as being too heavily weighted with Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and incapable of carrying out reforms because of its strong affiliations with vested interests.

Yokomichi, 61, a former socialist, vowed to preserve the Constitution against any attempts to revise Article 9, which bans the use of force as a means of settling international conflicts and prohibits the sending of troops overseas.

Kan, 55, backs privacy rights and the environment. He said he intends to create an administration that is not controlled by bureaucrats.

Noda, 47, believes Article 9 must be changed but that the public is not yet ready to accept it. He stressed that the power of youth is needed to implement structural reforms, adding that in the LDP, a lawmaker in his 40s wouldn’t be able to run for president because he wouldn’t be considered senior enough.

With roughly 60 members of the Diet behind him, Hatoyama, the incumbent, is regarded as the front-runner.

But opinion polls show that Kan is currently more popular, which will serve him well under the “supporter system,” which allows any Japanese citizen who pays the 1,000 yen registration fee to vote. As of Friday, about 310,000 people had applied for the system. The combined ballots of the supporters will be treated as the equivalent of 320 votes, or 40 percent of the 816 to be cast.

Under DPJ rules, each of the party’s 183 Diet members can cast two votes. The 83 members scheduled to run on the DPJ ticket in the next general election, not including incumbents, get one vote each. The roughly 1,500 members in the DPJ’s local assemblies nationwide will be given 47 votes.

Initially, nine DPJ members expressed an intention to run in the election. But more than half gave up as they were unable to get the minimum backing of 20 Diet members needed for a candidacy.

Vice President Kansei Nakano recently withdrew with some 20 members of his group and has thrown his support behind Hatoyama. His group includes former members of the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party.

Among the junior lawmakers, Seiji Maehara decided to give up and back Noda after an an opinion poll and a count of supporters indicated Noda as the stronger of the two.

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