Ichiro Ozawa appeared to be leading Naoto Kan in popularity among the Democratic Party of Japan’s rank and file Thursday, the day before members will elect one of them to be their next president.

“We cannot deny we have been lagging behind,” a key Kan aide said.

Ozawa, 63, a former party vice president and one-time heavyweight in the Liberal Democratic Party, and Kan, 59, a two-time DPJ president and former longtime civic activist, announced their candidacies Wednesday night.

The two candidates appeared on a television program Thursday morning, pledging to work for greater unity regardless of who becomes leader.

“It would be our responsibility to supplement each other’s shortcomings and make the party one that can take power,” Ozawa said. “If the two of us cooperate, we will be able to gain extensive support.”

Ozawa said he would accept a party post if Kan won, and he would offer Kan one should he win himself. He did not say what post he would offer Kan.

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