Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda won a runoff Monday to become president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, upending economy minister Banri Kaieda, the top ballot-getter in the first round of voting.
As prime minister, Noda will face a mountain of problems, including Japan's ballooning debt, the huge amount of funds needed to rebuild the disaster-hit Tohoku region, and a divided Diet expected to hamper the passage of legislation.
Kaieda had received the support of power broker Ichiro Ozawa, who heads the largest DPJ group with about 120 members, as well as former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who heads a DPJ faction of about 30 members.
While Noda finished second in the initial voting by 398 DPJ lawmakers, he won the runoff by picking up most of the votes of the other three candidates in the field--Seiji Maehara, the former foreign minister, Michihiko Kano, the farm minister, and Sumio Mabuchi, the former transport minister.
Noda, 54, is expected to be voted in as the new prime minister to succeed Naoto Kan in the Diet as early as Tuesday.
Noda received 215 votes in the runoff, edging the 177 for Kaieda.
Because Kaieda had received the support of Ozawa, who faces a criminal trial this autumn in connection with a questionable financial transaction, DPJ members apparently lined up behind Noda out of fear of public criticism should Ozawa once again have a major say in party and government matters.
Kaieda had indicated that he would rely heavily on Ozawa should he become DPJ president and, consequently, prime minister.
Noda had been the initial candidate of choice among DPJ executives, but he failed to generate much momentum among rank-and-file members, partly because he had advocated tax hikes in the past to pay for rebuilding after the Great East Japan Earthquake and stabilizing the social security system.
The fact that Noda won a close election over a candidate backed by Ozawa will likely lead to a continuation of the internal party discord that had crippled the Kan administration and slowed the passage of legislation through the Diet.
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