DP taps Upper House member Kohei Otsuka as new party president

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The Democratic Party elected Upper House member Kohei Otsuka as new party president on Tuesday following the formal resignation of Seiji Maehara the previous day.

Otsuka, a 58-year-old former Bank of Japan official, is little known among the general public, but many party members urged him to run in the presidential election, apparently trusting his ability to manage party affairs.

Otsuka was the only candidate who had filed for the position by Tuesday’s deadline. His election was then endorsed at a general meeting of DP members.

“I’ve taken this position in a very severe situation. But politics never stops, and there shouldn’t be any recess,” Otsuka told a news conference on Tuesday. “I will strive to revive and manage the party.”

Otsuka, elected to the Upper House from Aichi Prefecture, served as deputy policy chief of the DP, which was the largest opposition force before Maehara effectively disbanded the party’s Lower House caucus ahead of the Oct. 22 Lower House election.

Maehara’s decision forced all of the party’s Lower House members to either join Kibo no To (Party of Hope), led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, or run as independents.

Maehara believed many DP members who joined the Kibo no To ticket would survive through the election thanks to Koike’s popularity.

But only 50 of Kibo no To’s 235 candidates won seats in the election, which led to harsh public criticism of Maehara.

Maehara formally stepped down Monday as party president.

As of Tuesday, the DP had 47 Upper House members. In addition, 18 Lower House members who were elected as independents maintained their membership in the party.

DP members rushed to choose a new leader as a special Diet session was set to start on Wednesday, when a vote to elect the prime minister was to be held.

Meanwhile on Thursday, 13 of the 18 DP-affiliated independents jointly formed a parliamentary group separate from the DP in the Lower House. The group is now the third-largest opposition force in the Lower House following Kibo no To.

Members of the group include former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, former DP President Katsuya Okada and former Finance Minister Jun Azumi.