The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force in the Diet, is back in the public spotlight.

After longtime veteran and leader Banri Kaieda failed to gain a Diet seat in the Dec. 14 Lower House election and abruptly stepped down from the DPJ presidency, several senior members have indicated they may vie for the party’s helm when the ranks vote Jan. 18.

Who will lead the largest opposition party next will be of critical importance in fighting back against the powerful Liberal Democratic Party, which returned to power after the DPJ’s 2009-2012 control of the government.

How will the new party leader be chosen? Who is expected to run, and how could the election affect the national political scene?

Following are basic questions and answers on the DPJ’s presidential election:

How will the DPJ president be elected?

Any Diet member belonging to the party can run, provided he or she has the written support of 20 or more other DPJ lawmakers.

DPJ Diet members, local and prefectural assembly members and official candidates who plan to run for a national election can vote, as well as general “toin” regular party members and “supporters,” or quasi-party members.

Candidacies have to be filed by Jan. 7, when official campaigning will start. The vote will be held Jan. 18.

What qualifies someone to be a DPJ toin member or supporter?

Any Japanese citizen 18 or older who pays the annual membership fee of ¥6,000 can become a toin. Supporters are quasi-party members who pay an annual fee of ¥2,000.

Foreign citizens can be supporters, but they are not allowed to vote in party presidential elections.

For this election, those who had registered with the party by the end of June are qualified to vote by mail.

How are the ballots weighted?

This is the first DPJ presidential election in which total votes by local and prefectural assembly members, toin and supporters will carry more weight than those of Diet members.

This means overall popularity will be the key to victory, particularly the ability to win over general voters.

One vote, which counts as two points, can be cast by each of the DPJ’s 132 Diet members. Also, an Upper House candidate running in Akita will have a vote that counts as one point. Thus, the Diet members’ votes will total 265 points.

Meanwhile about 1,650 local and prefectural assembly members can cast a vote by mail, with their combined total numbering 141 points.

On top of that, about 30,000 registered general toin and 200,000 supporters can vote by mail. Their ballots collectively will amount to between 300 and 355 points.

How will the ballots be counted on Jan. 18?

First, the ballots of local assembly members, toin and supporters will be tallied and the results will be announced on Jan. 18.

After seeing the results, Diet members and the Upper House member candidate will cast their ballots later in the day. The results are to be announced immediately after.

Who is likely to run and what will they focus on?

Goshi Hosono, former minister in charge of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and former DPJ President Katsuya Okada have announced they will run.

A key issue will be whether to promote merger talks with other opposition parties, in particular Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).

Hosono is believed willing to promote talks with Ishin no To, while policy expert Okada appears reluctant.

Ishin no To has advocated more right-leaning policies than those of the center-left DPJ. The party has called for more drastic government streamlining and harshly criticizes the DPJ’s dependency on labor unions, including those of government workers.

Okada reportedly told reporters in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, on Dec. 20 that “there are some (policy) differences between Ishin no To and the DPJ. (A merger) is not an easy task.”

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