Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and deputy chief Katsuya Okada, the two candidates running in Saturday’s DPJ presidential race, said Thursday resigning President Ichiro Ozawa will still serve in a key post.

Their remarks indicate that the scandal-hit Ozawa will remain a kingpin in the party and continue to exercise influence from behind the scenes even after he is replaced — the way Ozawa has wielded power throughout his political career.

While Okada is favored in national opinion polls and is gaining support from the anti-Ozawa faction, Hatoyama reportedly has the backing of Ozawa and his followers, placing Okada at a likely disadvantage.

Regarding Ozawa’s role under the party’s new leadership, Hatoyama said that although he has not yet decided what post Ozawa might fill in the new lineup, he would take on a “prominent role.”

Hatoyama did stress, however, that Ozawa would not be steering him and the party from behind the scenes, contrary to much speculation.

“I have no intention for (the DPJ) to be called (Ozawa’s) puppet,” he said.

Hatoyama added that if he becomes president, he would also want Okada, whom he described as an intelligent and talented politician, to assume an active role in the party.

“A regime change is inevitable,” Hatoyama said. “Ozawa’s resignation is an ordeal” the party must get through, he said.

As for Okada, he said both Ozawa and Hatoyama would have prominent roles in the party so the DPJ can oust the ruling coalition, adding he will consider what posts they would serve if he is elected.

“We all need to play ball” to win, he said.

The presidential election will be a one-on-one contest between Hatoyama and Okada, both former party heads. The winner could become prime minister in the event the DPJ wins the next Lower House poll.

Although the two candidates unveiled their positions in a news conference Thursday, there were no major differences.

Both called for the abolition of corporate donations, limiting the number of second-generation politicians and reducing the number of seats in the Lower House.

However, Hatoyama did differentiate himself from Okada, a proponent of raising the consumption tax, by stressing he believes such talk is unnecessary in amid these dire economic times.

“When people are encountering such hardships, I don’t think the topic needs to even be discussed,” Hatoyama said, adding it will still have to be dealt with in the long term to cover the costs of the national pension system.

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