A former acting secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan said Sunday he will call for replacing party head Yukio Hatoyama in January if the re-elected leader fails to live up to expectations.

“Even the Liberal Democratic Party replaced Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori because, with him on top, it couldn’t have won elections,” Seiji Maehara told reporters, referring to the resignation of the unpopular Mori in April 2001. Current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi succeeded Mori as LDP leader and prime minister.

“If our party can’t gain control of the government or doesn’t see public support ratings improve, we’ll have to pick a new leader,” he said.

Maehara said the next party convention in January will likely be a day of reckoning for the Hatoyama leadership. He pledged to form a “group that will make the party leadership tense and will nudge it from below.”

Hatoyama was re-elected last Monday to a third term in the top post of Japan’s largest opposition party. He spent nearly a week debating DPJ executive posts before securing consent from influential party members for his nomination of Kansei Nakano as the new secretary general.

The selection of Nakano was widely considered a reward for his help in getting re-elected the 55-year-old Hatoyama in a heated race. The decision has drawn considerable criticism from younger DPJ lawmakers, many of whom had backed Yoshihiko Noda, 45, for the presidency.

Maehara withdrew his own candidacy to consolidate support for Noda. He attacked Hatoyama’s nominations of members representing party factions to other senior posts, saying the moves “go against the tide.”

On Saturday, Hatoyama informally tapped Lower House member Banri Kaieda as the party’s policy chief, Takao Sato as Diet affairs chief and Hirotaka Akamatsu as chairman of its election affairs committee.

Katsuya Okada also accepted Hatoyama’s offer to appoint him as deputy secretary general.

On a TV news program broadcast Sunday, Maehara and three other younger DPJ lawmakers voiced dissatisfaction with Hatoyama’s nomination of Nakano to the party’s No. 2 post.

“If we lose the by-elections for both chambers of the Diet next month, we’ll hold Mr. Hatoyama responsible,” Shigefumi Matsuzawa said.

Hatoyama conceded on a TV program Sunday that he never expected the nomination of Nakano to generate so much flak. He denied that his new lineup for the party’s top brass were based on rewards or the balancing of power among party factions. He stressed that he had made the decisions based on merit.

“This is a start from the severest situation . . . I hope other party members focus on the future instead of making a conclusion right now,” he said.

Nakano, appearing on another TV news show, said he expects the negative publicity about his nomination to have some effect on the DPJ’s performance in the by-elections in late October.

“We’d like to get through the by-elections by showing unity behind the party’s new administration,” he said.

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