A new battle has erupted in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, this time over the timing of the party presidential election to replace Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The DPJ leadership plans to hold the election within about three days of Kan's official resignation announcement.
The strategy would mean that the next prime minister would be chosen during the current Diet session, which is scheduled to close on Aug. 31.
Such a quick election would be a great advantage for Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, an expected candidate who is backed by DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada and other senior party officials.
Noda, who advocates tax hikes, has made his policies clear. Holding an election on such short notice would give his opponents little time to prepare for the vote.
DPJ members who do not support Noda are already criticizing the leadership's strategy, saying it is impossible to hold deep policy debate in just a few days.
"It is apparent that the leadership is trying to hold the presidential election quickly (to help Noda)," said a DPJ lawmaker who is willing to run in the election. "Such a manner will invite objections from within the party."
Kan on Aug. 10 clearly stated that he will resign after the Diet passes a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-financing bonds and special legislation on promoting renewable energy.
DPJ Secretary-General Okada plans to pass the two bills through the Diet by Aug. 26 and hold the presidential election on Aug. 28. The winner would be named prime minister in the Diet on Aug. 31.
Okada asked executives of opposition parties for cooperation in passing the two bills as early as possible.
The Lower House passed the bond bill on Aug. 11 and sent it to the Upper House, which is controlled by the opposition bloc.
"Amid the unclear economic prospects, we could be criticized by the public if we delay the start of deliberations on the government bond bill in the Upper House," Okada said.
Okada also visited Azuma Koshiishi, head of the DPJ's Upper House caucus, and asked him to start deliberations on the bond bill on Aug. 12, just before the start of the Bon holidays.
The bonds will be used to finance the third extra budget to rebuild areas devastated by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
"We want to compile the third supplementary budget of this fiscal year, which includes the budget for recovery efforts, as early as possible," Okada said.
However, Koshiishi, who is close to former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, rejected Okada's request, insisting that Upper House deliberations should start on Aug. 19.
"It takes time for each potential candidate to collect the required signatures of 20 lawmakers who recommend him. It is not necessary to hold the presidential election in a hurry," Koshiishi said, indicating his preference for an election in September.
The holding of quick elections has been advantageous for candidates backed by the party leadership in past elections.
When Ozawa resigned as party leader in May 2009, the presidential election was held only five days later. Yukio Hatoyama, who was backed by Ozawa, won the election, in which Okada also ran.
When Hatoyama resigned as prime minister in June 2010, the party presidential election was held only two days later. Kan, who was finance minister at the time and had good relations with Hatoyama, was elected DPJ president.
One senior DPJ lawmaker opposes the strategy of holding the election immediately after Kan resigns.
"Candidates should discuss policies and present their ideas to the public," he said. "As the presidential election must gain attention through the Internet and television, a certain period of time is necessary."
Two more lawmakers have expressed their intention to run in the election.
Shinji Tarutoko, 52, former chairman of the DPJ's Committee on Diet Affairs, decided Aug. 10 to file his candidacy.
Tarutoko supports a hike in the consumption tax rate. But he opposes the idea of increasing taxes to secure funds for recovery efforts in the disaster areas.
His aides say he will have no problem collecting the signatures of 20 lawmakers.
Michihiko Kano, 69, the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, also expressed his intention to run and is now collecting signatures from the lawmakers.
Kano does not have his own faction in the party. Since he has no clear enemies in the party, some lawmakers support the idea of choosing him as a "provisional" prime minister until September next year, when a DPJ presidential election is scheduled.
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