Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa suggested Thursday he might run for the party presidency when the vote is taken Saturday, after the resignation of Katsuya Okada over the DPJ’s huge setback in Sunday’s general election.

Seiji Maehara, a younger lawmaker who is the DPJ’s “shadow Cabinet” defense minister, declared Thursday he will run as a candidate, while former DPJ leader Naoto Kan has said he may also enter the race.

The DPJ decided Thursday afternoon at a joint meeting of its Diet members from both chambers that the party’s Diet members would elect a new leader. The vote will be held in Tokyo on Saturday, when Okada will formally resign from his post.

The new leader will serve the remainder of Okada’s term, until the end of next September.

“I myself would like to hear opinions of various people and may have to make a decision (by Friday about whether to run), as there is still one day left” before the election, Ozawa, 63, said during a news conference earlier in the day.

He said he would make a final decision after thoroughly considering what stance the party should take in its bid to reach the goal of someday becoming the ruling party.

Speaking to reporters in the morning, Kan said, “I’d like to thoroughly see the situation in the party’s (joint) meeting” before making a decision.

He also said he wanted to “hear what Maehara would say, in declaring his candidacy, about how he is going to rebuild the party.”

The party is split over how to choose their new chief.

During Thursday’s meeting, several members insisted the leader should be selected without a vote to maintain unity. Others said an election should be held to keep the party’s decision-making process open and transparent to the public.

“The most important thing is to have a vote that doesn’t create divisions within the party, particularly after its leader resigned over the historic election loss,” Lower House member Sakihito Ozawa told reporters as he exited the joint meeting.

In Sunday’s election of the 480-seat Lower House, the DPJ captured only 113 seats — compared with its pre-election strength of 177. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party boosted its strength to 296 seats.

Former DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama also told the joint meeting he hopes a new leader is elected in the way that consolidates the DPJ’s efforts to rebuild.

Behind such concerns are the tendency of DPJ members to get involved in factional and intergenerational feuds. DPJ lawmakers hail from various backgrounds, including former Socialists conservatives formerly with the LDP, like Ozawa.

Maehara, 43, is supported by younger-generation members. He pledged that if elected DPJ chief, he would pick new party executives based on their abilities rather than their career backgrounds or factional balance within the party.

“The reason I am a candidate is to revive the DPJ and turn the party into a group that can fight squarely with the LDP” and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, which together captured more than two-thirds of the Lower House, Maehara said.

“Reviving the party is the only way to prevent Japan’s democracy from receding,” he said.

Maehara went on to say he would lead the DPJ by disentangling it from various vested interests, including unions that have been a solid support base.

“I’d like to have the party remain fair and open in dealing with labor unions,” Maehara said, noting the DPJ was unable to offer a counterproposal to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization bills because its members acted in accordance the wishes of postal worker unions.

A graduate of Matsushita Institute of the Government and Management, Maehara joined the DPJ in 1996 when it was originally formed.

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