Senior lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan stepped up efforts Monday to allay the rising tension between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and party bigwig Ichiro Ozawa over their expected showdown in the DPJ’s Sept. 14 leadership election.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters he will arrange a Kan-Ozawa meeting Tuesday, where the two will decide whether Ozawa, who was DPJ secretary general until June, will run for the party presidency.
Kan told Hatoyama he will work with Ozawa to unify the party.
“There have been worries over the situation turning into a head-on crash,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said at a news conference. “I hope wisdom will prevail and the party will run the government as one.”
But Sengoku, Kan’s right-hand man who is known to be against Ozawa, said he has no insight into how to remedy the situation.
Kan met Monday evening with Hatoyama to discuss the election.
In the afternoon, Hatoyama held talks with Ozawa and Azuma Koshiishi, leader of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus.
The three discussed whether Kan and Ozawa should meet face to face before campaigning officially begins Wednesday, but “the situation remained the same,” a person who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity.
“Let’s slow down,” Hatoyama told reporters when asked about the possibility of Kan and Ozawa holding talks.
Ozawa told a meeting of the party in the evening that the leadership election has to contested, but the candidates need to work together when the election is over.
Since the DPJ’s setback in the Upper House election in July, Kan has been unable to reach Ozawa, who has bitterly criticized the way he runs the party and the government.
DPJ Vice President Kenji Yamaoka, a close ally of Ozawa, said the former secretary general’s candidacy for the party leadership would go ahead as planned.
Assessing the various developments within the party, DPJ lawmakers supporting Kan to remain party chief suspended on Monday their initial plan to set up a campaign headquarters for the election later in the day.
Not all lawmakers belonging to the party faction headed by Hatoyama, which is the second biggest after Ozawa’s, have made up their minds over whether to back Kan or the former secretary general.
Hatoyama recently switched from supporting Kan to Ozawa for the coming leadership race.
Banri Kaieda, a Lower House member and part of Hatoyama’s group, who had indicated his willingness to run in the election, said Monday he will stand by Ozawa.
Ozawa has had a big presence in and outside the DPJ, but the latest opinion polls have shown that an overwhelming number of voters favor Kan as prime minister.
Ozawa has been embroiled in a political money scandal involving his former secretaries.
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