A portrait of John F. Kennedy stands in Goshi Hosono’s office as a reminder to the prospective leader of the opposition of the need to be ready for a crisis.

“I put the picture up as it forces me to ask myself if I have the strength and drive to make important decisions at crucial times,” Hosono said yesterday of the painting of the former U.S. president during the Cuban missile crisis. “A situation where you shoulder the burden of the nation could occur at any time.”

Hosono, 43, likened the pressure of his role as minister for nuclear policy in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns to that of Kennedy in 1962. “I was directly involved in deciding what work was needed on-site and the role of the Self-Defense Forces,” he said in an interview in his office adorned with maps of the area around the devastated plant.

He is now running for president of the Democratic Party of Japan after leader Banri Kaieda lost his seat in last month’s election defeat. A Kyodo News poll on Dec. 26 put Hosono slightly ahead of his nearest rival, Katsuya Okada, a party stalwart and former foreign minister, in the race for the Jan. 18 election.

Should he win, Hosono faces the twin challenge of uniting a party he says is seen as “disjointed,” and regaining the public’s confidence in the DPJ after it frittered away its three years in power from 2009 through 2012.

The DPJ lost heavily in the December general election to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. Hobbled by factionalism, shifting policies and fund shortages, the DPJ failed to capitalize on voter discontent with Abe’s economic policies.

The lack of a viable opposition was the biggest factor behind the LDP’s sweeping victory for three in four voters surveyed by the Asahi Shimbun. Only 11 percent said the ruling party won because people wanted to give Abe a mandate for his policies, a poll conducted Dec. 15-16 poll showed.

A separate poll by Kyodo after the election showed 63 percent of respondents did not see the economy improving under Abe’s so-called three arrows of monetary easing, public spending and structural reforms. Indeed, Hosono sees Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda’s unprecedented stimulus as the biggest risk to the world’s third-largest economy.

“Monetary easing is a good thing, but we need to consider whether it’s good for Kuroda to keep firing his bazooka,” Hosono said. The risk is that easing drives the yen too low, and investors lose confidence in Japan as the central bank comes to be seen as monetizing the nation’s debt, he said.

The BOJ’s 2 percent inflation target will be “difficult to achieve” because of falling oil prices, he said. “The goal is not for the benefit of the people, it has simply become the BOJ’s own goal.”

The yen has weakened 13 percent against the dollar this year. Wages adjusted for inflation fell 4.3 percent in November from a year earlier, a 17th straight decline and the steepest tumble since December 2009.

Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, sees Hosono as an unknown entity.

“This works to his advantage as he has relatively few enemies, but there’s also the lingering question as to whether he really has what it takes,” Nakano said. “He doesn’t seem to have an identifiable set of policies that are his, except perhaps for a vague desire to position himself as a ‘centrist.’ “

Hosono was born in Kyoto and attended Kyoto University’s law faculty. He worked for four years at the Sanwa Technology Research Institute before being elected to the Diet at the age of 28 in 2000.

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