Unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is assured of hanging on to his job for a while longer.
Noda, 55, has won pledges of support from more than 60 percent of Diet lawmakers, guaranteeing him victory in his party's leadership election on Sept. 21.
The Asahi Shimbun learned that Noda has secured the backing of at least 210 members of his Democratic Party of Japan in the two chambers of the Diet where the party has 336 members.
With such a commanding lead, he is expected to win in first-round voting.
Balloting for the leadership post is being held against a backdrop of persistent criticism of Noda over his crusade to double the rate of the consumption tax, which caused dozens of members to bolt from the party, and a looming Lower House election which the DPJ is widely expected to lose.
Noda has pledges of support from his own party group, numbering 30 or so lawmakers, as well as some 40 from party policy chief Seiji Maehara's group, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's group (about 30) and a group mainly consisting of about 25 lawmakers from the long disbanded Democratic Socialist Party.
Top officials of at least 21 prefectural chapters have also pledged their support for the incumbent.
Noda's challengers face an uphill battle. They are: Michihiko Kano, 70, a former farm minister; Hirotaka Akamatsu, 64, another former farm minister; and Kazuhiro Haraguchi, 53, a former internal affairs minister.
Some 30 lawmakers have yet to show their hand.
Kano is backed by his own group, comprising 35 or so lawmakers. Akamatsu is supported by a group of lawmakers mainly from the now-defunct Social Democratic Party of Japan, with about 20 members. And Haraguchi is supported by lawmakers close to former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and former party leader Ichiro Ozawa. Ozawa recently left the party.
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who had been seen as a threat to Noda's aspirations to remain prime minister, decided not to run. Noda's critics failed to organize themselves to field a candidate to run against him.
Bitter internal divisions over the wisdom of raising the consumption tax rate stripped the DPJ of its rebellious elements, as most of those who voted against the proposed legislation have left the party.
Noda's three contenders failed to rally meaningful numbers for the simple reason they failed to offer convincing alternatives to the prime minister's policies.
"Our goal in the poll by Diet lawmakers is to win 220 votes, or more than 65 percent," said a source in Noda's camp. "If we achieve that, we will gain a free hand in personnel affairs of the party."
Even so, the buzz in Nagatacho is that more DPJ members will defect after the election.
Many of Haraguchi's followers, for example, are said to be itching to leave the party.
All it would take is 13 defections for the DPJ to lose its majority in the Lower House. If that happened, its grip on power would become more perilous.
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