Three lawmakers entered the race on Sept. 10 to challenge Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, although the incumbent appeared to be in the driver's seat as he holds the support of a number of influential members.
The challengers indicated at a joint news conference at a Tokyo hotel on Sept. 10 that they will make the race an indictment on Noda's management of the government in his year in office.
Hirotaka Akamatsu, 64, a former agriculture minister, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, 53, a former internal affairs minister, and Michihiko Kano, 70, another former agriculture minister, all said that they would focus on Noda's responsibility for the breakup of the DPJ over the past year.
Akamatsu said the DPJ presidential poll was "an opportunity to choose a leader by returning to the starting point of the DPJ" that led to such enthusiasm among the public after the change in government following the August 2009 Lower House election.
Haraguchi also said the DPJ would have to undergo a thorough restart by first apologizing to the public for the party's failings over the past three years.
"We cannot move forward unless we clarify where the responsibility for the current situation lies," Haraguchi said.
Kano touched upon the departure of lawmakers from the DPJ to form new parties and said that strengthening party unity would be his primary task.
While saying the main tasks facing politicians were to make decisions and take responsibility, Kano said that since Noda had decided to push through legislation to double the consumption tax rate, "We have to think about who should bear responsibility for the situation" facing the DPJ.
About 70 lawmakers have left the ruling party due to differences with Noda over his push for raising the consumption tax rate and resuming operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
Noda said he was running because with work still remaining in a number of important policy areas, he could not simply leave things hanging. He defended the decision to pass legislation to double the consumption tax by 2015 as being necessary to stabilize the social security system for the nation's middle class.
Despite the plunging support rate for his Cabinet, Noda is banking on the backing of a number of influential politicians including Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada and Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi, and groups such as one led by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The fact that popular Environment Minister Goshi Hosono also decided to not enter the race boosted Noda's chances of re-election.
A major focus of the Sept. 21 vote will be whether Noda can garner a majority of votes on the first ballot. In addition to incumbent Diet members, nine individuals who are set to be endorsed by the DPJ in the next Lower House election, local assembly members and party members will be eligible to vote in the presidential election. The votes of local assembly members and rank-and-file members as well as registered supporters will be added up by prefecture and corresponding points distributed among the candidates by proportional representation.
If Noda cannot win an outright majority in the first round of voting, a runoff will be held between the two candidates with the highest point totals with voting by Diet members and expected candidates for the next Lower House election.
As of Sept. 4, there were 326,974 party members and supporters who can vote in the presidential election as well as 2,030 local assembly members.
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