Kaieda leading but runoff seen

DPJ hopefuls make final poll pitches


Staff Writer

The race for the Democratic Party of Japan presidency drew heated debate on the final day of campaigning Sunday as the five candidates took their best shots at convincing their peers why they should be the next prime minister.

The five — former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, trade minister Banri Kaieda, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, ex-transport minister Sumio Mabuchi and farm minister Michihiko Kano — are vying for the votes of the DPJ’s 398 Diet members.

On Sunday, the five appeared on TV programs and engaged in an open debate to clarify their policies on crucial issues.

While all five candidates stressed the importance of rebuilding the nation’s economy and infrastructure in the wake of the March 11 disasters and ensuing nuclear meltdown, each had different visions on how to fund the process.

In a debate held at The Prince Park Tower Tokyo in Minato Ward, Maehara, a popular former foreign minister who resigned earlier in the year over a political donations scandal, said that talk of a tax hike to finance reconstruction should be shelved for at least one or two years and that alternative measures should be explored.

Noda, a fiscal hawk who initially pushed for a tax hike but has toned down his stance lately, said he intended to put priority on rebuilding the economy by addressing the strong yen and deflation.

“We cannot back up reconstruction efforts without economic recovery,” he said.

Trade Minister Kaieda, who is being backed by party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, the head of its largest faction, said that while a tax hike may be inevitable, the timing is crucial and must be discussed.

Kaieda also added that issuing construction bonds to finance the effort should also be considered.

So far, media reports indicate that Kaieda, thanks to Ozawa’s support, is the front-runner.

Ozawa, who had his party membership suspended after being specially indicted over a scandal about political funds reports, heads a faction of 120 lawmakers, which gives him considerable sway.

Whether to lift the suspension has been one of the main issues in the campaign. DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada is against the proposal.

Maehara, who is considered one of the strongest candidates, has ruled out lifting Ozawa’s suspension but said on a separate TV program Sunday that he might appoint Ozawa’s allies to leadership posts if elected president.

Maehara, Noda and Kano all appear to be drawing about the same amount of support, with the youngest candidate, Mabuchi, lagging behind.

But with no single candidate likely to garner the 200-vote majority needed to win, the chances of a runoff being held the same day are climbing.

Political observers say the most likely scenario has Kaieda running against one of the two “anti-Ozawa” heavyweights — Maehara or Noda. But both camps have agreed to join forces against Kaieda if that happens, DPJ sources said.