The Democratic Party of Japan’s decision to hold the presidential election Saturday is prompting members to question why it must be held so soon and why the voting is being restricted to those with Diet seats.

“This time is different from other DPJ presidential elections, because the new leader could be a prime minister candidate. Honestly, I wish there were more opportunities for the people to gain an understanding (of the candidates’ views),” Lower House Representative Shu Watanabe of Shizuoka Prefecture said during a television program on Fuji TV Wednesday.

“If the election was scheduled for Sunday night, we would have been able to go back to our constituencies on Saturday and Sunday” to listen to the voters and explain the situation to them, he said.

The schedule and voting method were decided Tuesday at an all-member meeting where dissent was eventually quashed by the party’s executive board.

Although DPJ members and supporters have the right to vote in presidential elections under DPJ rules, that has only happened once in the past.

The election schedule was shortened to avoid disrupting deliberations in the Diet, which is currently discussing the government’s extra budget bills in the opposition-controlled Upper House.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama, one of the candidates, said it takes about a month to prepare for an election involving all supporters.

An early election might benefit Hatoyama because Katsuya Okada, his rival, appears more popular.

According to a recent poll conducted by the daily Mainichi Shimbun, 25 percent of the public thinks Okada is the most suitable to lead the DPJ, while 13 percent think it is Hatoyama. Holding the election later would give Okada more time to woo the public.

There has also been speculation that President Ichiro Ozawa, who is resigning, wants Hatoyama, his secretary general, to win so he can maintain influence within the party.

Hatoyama, who is known as having a good personality and communication skills, reportedly has an advantage in the voting because he has the backing of a group close to Ozawa and a few others.

Skeptical reporters asked Hatoyama whether he and Ozawa had discussed potential successors and the timing of the election before Ozawa announced he would resign.

“There is no such fact,” Hatoyama replied.

Lower House member Hiroshi Kawauchi said on a TBS TV program Thursday that he supports Hatoyama because of his ability to bring members together.

“He can have a trustful relationship with everyone,” said Kawauchi, adding that Hatoyama is the only person who kept telling Ozawa face to face that he needed to explain more about the alleged Nishimatsu Construction funds scandal.

At the same time, Renho, a female DPJ Upper House member from Tokyo who only goes by one name and supports Okada, said on the same program that both have the skills to unite the party, but that Okada has the ability to reconstruct the nation with his policies, which have not changed since the last general election in 2005.

Some lawmakers are trying to come up with ways to somehow pick up backing from supporters. Keisuke Tsumura, a DPJ Lower House member from Okayama Prefecture, said the Okayama branch plans to hold a pseudo-election or telephone survey, although the results will not be officially reflected in the presidential election.

“We have been telling our members and supporters who pay the ¥2,000 or ¥6,000 annual fee that they can participate in the presidential election. Although they cannot officially participate this time because of the rule, we want to try our best to somehow absorb their opinions,” Tsumura said.

Kamei wants close ties

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Shizuka Kamei, head of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), said Wednesday the next president of the Democratic Party of Japan should be someone who can maintain close relations with other opposition parties.

Kamei, acting leader of the tiny opposition party, made the remarks at a news conference in Washington, as the DPJ gets ready to elect Saturday its new president to succeed scandal-hit leader Ichiro Ozawa.

“It’s better (for the next DPJ leader) to be a person who can manage ties with Kokumin Shinto and the Social Democratic Party, and implement policies together,” Kamei said.

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