Democratic Party of Japan chose Yukio Hatoyama as its new president Saturday by a relatively large margin over Katsuya Okada, who was the more popular candidate among the public in opinion polls.

The DPJ, as the largest opposition force and most powerful party in the Upper House, could be the next ruling party depending on the Lower House general election. This means Hatoyama, grandson of a former prime minister, could hold the No. 1 office himself before the year is out.

“All along, our rival has been the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc and not each other,” Hatoyama said after he was elected. “There were no sides the minute the election ended.”

Only the DPJ’s 221 sitting Diet members were allowed to vote. Hatoyama received 124 ballots to 95 for Okada.

Stressing party unity, Okada vowed to cooperate with Hatoyama to fight the LDP. The general election must be held by fall.

“From today, let us come together as the new Hatoyama-led DPJ and bring politics back into the hands of the public and take power,” he said.

At a news conference after the vote, Hatoyama said he intends to give key party posts to Okada and scandal-tainted Ichiro Ozawa, whose resignation as party president forced Saturday’s election. But Hatoyama refused to give any details, saying only that he will make his selections as soon as possible.

“I would like to play ball with everyone — this means that I would like both Okada and Ozawa to take key posts,” he said.

Hatoyama’s first major task will be to reverse the negative swing in the party’s fortunes since Ozawa’s chief secretary was arrested and charged in a fundraising scandal, but appointing Ozawa to a key position is likely to trigger harsh public criticism.

“I am aware that the Nishimatsu problem has not been resolved, and I do think it is a fact that Ozawa has not completely fulfilled his responsibility to explain the situation,” Hatoyama said, referring to the construction company whose fully documented campaign contributions are at the heart of the scandal.

“I would like Ozawa to go around the country where he will face various questions raised by the people,” he said. “I would like him to provide the necessary information to the public without running away.”

Ozawa resigned amid strong negative reaction over the scandal, while Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Cabinet began to show signs of recovering from extremely low public support.

After Ozawa stepped down Monday, various media polls showed that Okada, with his “clean image,” was the more popular of the two candidates. Hatoyama for his part, being Ozawa’s right-hand man as the party’s secretary general, was seen as more of the same and the election was viewed as a battle between those for Ozawa or against him.

Lower House member Sumio Mabuchi, who voted for Okada, said it is up to the DPJ’s Diet members to explain why Hatoyama was the winner contrary to public sentiment.

“Despite public opinion, (most of the party’s lawmakers) decided that Hatoyama’s power was necessary for the DPJ right now,” Mabuchi said. “Starting tomorrow, we must return to our districts nationwide and bring with us a message from our new leader to explain” why he was chosen.

But a veteran lawmaker of the LDP, who declined to be named, said it will be easy to attack Hatoyama because of his close ties with Ozawa. And with the majority of the public pushing for Okada, it remains unclear whether the DPJ will regain its strength.

Many DPJ lawmakers had protested the decision to allow only Diet members to vote in the presidential election, and not DPJ supporters.

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