Yoshihiko Noda owes his victory as prime minister in large part to concerns within the ruling party that power broker Ichiro Ozawa would continue to call the shots.
Because of this, many members of the Democratic Party of Japan refused to back candidates favored by Ozawa, who, with the support of some 130 lawmakers, commands the largest bloc in the party.
The final tally showed that Noda, who was the finance minister, gathered a considerable number of votes not only from anti-Ozawa members but also from those swaying between pro- and anti-Ozawa sentiment.
As Ozawa still carries significant clout in the party, the selection of DPJ secretary-general will hold the key to Noda's appeal for party unity.
Before the final vote, it was believed that former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara's group (40 members), Prime Minister Naoto Kan's group (30 members), Noda's group (30 members) and many of the centrists would vote for Noda.
The key lay in how the centrists would vote.
What determined the outcome was whether farm minister Michihiko Kano would support Noda or Banri Kaieda, the industry minister.
On the eve of the election, the Kano group realized that their boss was unlikely to finish first or second in the first vote-a prerequisite for candidacy in final balloting.
On the morning of Aug. 29, the day of the election, the members left it to Kano to decide who they would vote for in the final vote if he lost in the first vote.
Given that little time elapses between the first and the final vote, Kano's aides e-mailed his group members as follows: "If Mr. Kano has his suit jacket on, vote for the candidate who finished first in the first vote. And he takes it off, vote for the other one."
Kano removed his jacket. That simple act determined the outcome of the election. Noda more than likely gained most of the 52 votes that went to Kano in the first vote.
In an attempt to enhance the standing of Kaieda, who was considered a strong candidate and in position to win a majority vote in the first vote, Ozawa exhorted DPJ members rallying behind other candidates to vote for Kaieda.
With the Ozawa group and another group led by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on his side, Kaieda finished first in the initial balloting with 143 votes, followed by Noda with 102 votes.
The Kano group was hardest hit by Ozawa's heavy handed effort. Masahiko Yamada, a former farm minister, and other group members turned their backs on Kano to support Kaieda.
An executive of the Kano group, infuriated by the shady maneuvering, did not mince words: "The Ozawa group went all-out to weaken our group."
Sumio Mabuchi, the former transport minister and a centrist candidate, barely secured the required minimum of 20 party members to announce his candidacy.
Realizing he had almost no chance of clinching victory, Mabuchi told his supporters to back a candidate who advocated tax policies similar to his own in the final vote. That meant backing Kaieda. Even so, some of the members are widely believed to have voted for Noda instead.
If Kaieda had won the election and become prime minister, Ozawa would have been able to exercise significant leverage over arranging crucial posts and allocating money to run the party-the very fears that anti-Ozawa members harbored. Those fears spread among centrist DPJ members before the election.
Noda and Maehara, who emerged as an anti-Ozawa candidate despite earlier seeking his support, formed an alliance after DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada, Noda's adviser on election strategy, and Yoshito Sengoku, acting DPJ president and a strong supporter of Maehara, met on Aug. 28.
Kaieda by this time appeared indecisive on policy issues as the price he had to pay for Ozawa's support was to incorporate Ozawa's views as well. Kaieda's promises during the election campaign, such as his cautious stance on joining talks on a Trans-Pacific Partnership and decommissioning all nuclear power plants across the nation, reflected Ozawa's and Hatoyama's policies. Kaieda muttered to his aides, "These are not my policies."
Kaieda was forced to practice his anticipated acceptance speech in front of the Ozawa group members on election day morning. Nonetheless, he skipped two pages about postal service reform bills. Some of the group members blamed Kaieda's poor speech skills for his loss.
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