Yukio Hatoyama was re-elected to his third term Monday as president of the Democratic Party of Japan after a close runoff with longtime partner and rival Naoto Kan, the opposition party’s secretary general.

Hatoyama won with 254 votes, or 51 percent of the total, compared with Kan’s 242 in a blistering runoff.

Although Kan, 55, gathered slightly more votes from Diet members and authorized candidates for the next Lower House election, Hatoyama, 55, gained twice as many votes from lay supporters and local assembly members, propelling him to another two-year term.

The two other candidates, former DPJ Vice President Takahiro Yokomichi and Yoshihiko Noda, who represents a group of young lawmakers, washed out in the first round of voting.

Hatoyama’s victory apparently shows that party members and supporters want a leader who puts more emphasis on party harmony than someone strong enough to confront Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

“My biggest task is to create a new Hatoyama organization” in which all party members will obey the party’s decision on key policies, Hatoyama told a news conference. “The election results show that the DPJ must change under Hatoyama’s leadership.” The party was criticized for its disunity last November when more than 20 members either voted against or abstained from voting on the government’s plan to dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships to provide logistic support to the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan

Hatoyama expressed his determination to win the next general election, which he described as his one and only opportunity to take the nation’s helm. He also hinted that he may step down if he fails to do so.

A fourth-generation politician from a wealthy family, Hatoyama is expected to name key posts at Tuesday’s party convention. DPJ policy affairs chief Katsuya Okada, a close aide, is high on the list of candidates for party secretary general.

In the first round of voting, Hatoyama captured 294 of the 816 votes, or 36 percent, while Kan won 221. Noda came in third with 182 and Yokomichi last with 119.

Although media polls showed that Kan was expected to win most of the lay supporters’ votes, Hatoyama actually outdid him with 126 votes, or 39 percent. Kan won 94.

Because none of the candidates won a majority in the first round, a runoff was held between Hatoyama and Kan.

Those eligible to vote were Diet members, candidates scheduled to run in the next general election on the DPJ ticket, local assembly members and lay supporters who paid the 1,000 yen registration fee to vote. The nationwide turnout for lay supporters was 51.33 percent.

The election indicates that the party leadership has failed to unify its members, who have various backgrounds and support groups, since four candidates from different groups ended up running.

The DPJ was founded in 1996 and expanded two years later by incorporating opposition lawmakers from various groups. Yokomichi, a die-hard guardian of the war-renouncing Constitution, was a member of the Social Democratic Party, while Kan belonged to New Party Sakigake.

Noda represented a group of junior lawmakers critical of the party leadership led by Hatoyama and Kan.

Hatoyama’s election to a third term as president drew cool reactions from political observers.

“If we take a closer look at Hatoyama’s victory, we notice that Kan gathered more votes than Hatoyama from DPJ Diet members,” political commentator Hisayuki Miyake said. “That means Hatoyama’s party leadership has become weaker.” and may face a lot of problems ahead.”

Miyake said Hatoyama’s waning leadership can be attributed to his failed attempt to increase the DPJ’s popularity by going along with Koizumi’s reform policies.

“After all, Hatoyama failed to assert the DPJ’s resolve to seize power from the Liberal Democratic Party,” Miyake said. “Many DPJ members are not happy with that.”

To the general public, the latest DPJ presidential election is only another round of “a storm within one political party,” said Waseda University professor Aiji Tanaka.

“I wonder if the four candidates in this election really cared about the public and shared their sense of crisis,” Tanaka said. “Although we have been suffering economic hardships and are in dire need of change in politics, none of the candidates successfully provided a clear vision for the nation’s future.”

Because Hatoyama belongs to an old-style political system centered on the power game among factions, it is difficult to expect drastic change in the DPJ with him as its head, Tanaka said.

Hatoyama was born into a distinguished political family in February 1947. His great-grandfather was a speaker of the House of Representatives, his grandfather a prime minister and the first Liberal Democratic Party president, and his father a foreign minister.

First elected to the Lower House from Hokkaido’s No. 9 electoral district in 1986, he was an LDP lawmaker for many years.

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