Prime Minister Noda wins re-election in overwhelming fashion

September 21, 2012


Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was re-elected to the presidency of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in a landslide on Sept. 21, assuring that he will retain his grip on power for a while longer.

Noda won 218 votes from 336 lawmakers affiliated with the party who hold voting rights in the first round of the presidential election, held at a Tokyo hotel.

He also won support from more than 70 percent of local assembly members and other party members, easily defeating his three rivals--Hirotaka Akamatsu, 64, a former agriculture minister; Kazuhiro Haraguchi, 53, a former internal affairs minister; and Michihiko Kano, 70, another former agriculture minister.

Kano totaled 43 votes, Akamatsu 41 and Haraguchi 31 in the voting by party lawmakers and others who have already obtained the party's backing in the next election.

Although the three rival candidates all criticized Noda for his handling of policy matters that led to mass defections from the DPJ, the failure to rally behind a single candidate allowed Noda an easy path to re-election.

Despite the victory for a second term as head of DPJ, Noda's political future is far from bright or certain.

He faces a mountain of problems, including accelerating the pace of rebuilding after last year's disaster, reviewing the nation's nuclear energy policy and dealing with diplomatic spats involving China and South Korea.

Noda will leave for the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting from Sept. 24. He is expected to make personnel decisions related to party posts and his Cabinet after returning to Japan.

After the new head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party is chosen on Sept. 26, Noda plans to hold meetings with the leaders of the LDP and New Komeito to discuss the handling of important legislation, including one for the issuance of central government bonds.

Noda also must deal with two diplomatic issues that have erupted in recent weeks.

There does not appear to be a path toward quickly patching up the relationship with China, which has hit one of its lowest points over the territorial dispute related to the Senkaku Islands.

Relations with South Korea have also been battered over another territorial dispute over the Takeshima islets.

Noda will also have to deal with public criticism over a nuclear energy policy that has taken a backward step from an initial stance of eliminating use of all nuclear plants by the 2030s.

His Cabinet did not formally approve such a specific deadline, and Noda could face a backlash from the strong public opposition to nuclear energy in the wake of last year's accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Once an extraordinary Diet session is convened in October, the main focus will be the fate of legislation to allow for the issuance of central government bonds and to revise the Lower House electoral system to correct a disparity in the value of a vote that has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Noda will have to obtain the cooperation of the LDP and New Komeito to ensure passage of those two bills through the Diet. However, the opposition will demand that Noda promise to dissolve the Lower House in return for cooperation on those bills.

The low public support ratings for the Noda Cabinet and DPJ will lead to calls from within the DPJ to delay any Lower House dissolution as long as possible.

There is also the possibility that the ruling coalition could lose its majority even in the Lower House.

The DPJ's overwhelming majority in that chamber has been whittled away with defections by lawmakers disgruntled over passage of legislation to double the consumption tax rate by 2015 and the decision to resume operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Should another 12 DPJ members leave the party fold, the ruling coalition would lose its majority in the Lower House.

Such a situation could leave open the possibility of passage of a no-confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet in the Lower House. If such a motion should pass, Noda would be forced to either dissolve the Lower House or have his Cabinet resign en masse.

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Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, center, bows as he is declared the winner of the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election on Sept. 21. (Hiroki Endo)

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, center, bows as he is declared the winner of the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election on Sept. 21. (Hiroki Endo)

  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, center, bows as he is declared the winner of the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election on Sept. 21. (Hiroki Endo)

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