Former trade minister Banri Kaieda on Dec. 25 was elected president of the Democratic Party of Japan, a party ousted from power after three years marred by broken promises, internal fighting and allegations of incompetence.
Kaieda will replace Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who resigned as DPJ chief immediately after the conservative Liberal Democratic Party won a majority in the Dec. 16 Lower House election. LDP chief Shinzo Abe was to be formally installed as prime minister on Dec. 26.
The DPJ lost around 75 percent of its pre-election strength in the Lower House in the election.
“A selfless spirit is important in politics,” Kaieda, 63, said in a speech delivered before DPJ presidential election. “We cannot let the DPJ disappear from Japan. I want to rebuild the party.”
Kaieda gained 90 votes from the DPJ Diet members to defeat Sumio Mabuchi, 52, a former transport minister, who received 54 votes. There was one invalid vote.
Goshi Hosono, chairman of the DPJ’s Policy Research Committee who is considered a likely future party president, supported Kaieda’s candidacy.
Kaeida said he will toughen up the party now that it is back in the opposition camp.
The DPJ swept into power in 2009 on promises to change the way Japan operates. It vowed to take power away from bureaucrats, cut spending, and make life easier for ordinary Japanese citizens.
But the party failed to live up to its promise of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture. Other promises were then broken, and spats escalated into full-blown feuds between party members over policy.
The DPJ also came under heavy criticism over its handling of the Fukushima nuclear accident and Japan’s soured relations with China.
The party’s election showed that the internal bickering has not disappeared.
Many party members who backed Kaieda said they were tired of the mainstream DPJ members who had shuffled key Cabinet and party posts among themselves under the administrations of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Noda.
They were particularly critical of Katsuya Okada, who pushed for a consumption tax hike as an adviser to Noda and led the DPJ’s campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election.
When Okada’s name was mentioned as a possible president by the mainstream politicians, opposition spread swiftly in the party.
Opponents called Okada and other senior DPJ officials “war criminals” responsible for the party’s disastrous showing in the Lower House election.
“The candidates should be anyone but those war criminals, and members endorsed by the war criminals are out of the question,” a DPJ lawmaker said.
Kaieda led after the first round of voting in the DPJ presidential election in August last year. But he lost to Noda in a runoff mainly because he was seen as a puppet of former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, who later left the party in opposition to Noda’s plan to raise the consumption tax.
Kaieda voted in favor of the tax hike legislation in the Lower House in June. And he stressed he would stick to the accord reached between the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax bills in the Diet.
But senior officials in the DPJ group led by Seiji Maehara, a former minister of national policy and economic and fiscal policy, raised doubts about Kaieda’s words.
Opponents of Kaieda also said that being elected in a single-seat constituency should be a minimum requirement for a party president.
Kaieda lost in the race in the Tokyo No. 1 single-seat constituency, but he retained a spot in the Lower House in the proportional representation district.
Kaieda, an economic commentator, was elected to the Lower House for the first time in 1993 on the Japan New Party ticket. Three years later, he became one of the founding members of the DPJ.
In response, Kaieda told a news conference that he felt qualified because he lost by only a slim margin.
He was named industry minister under the Kan administration. But due to a lack of communication with Kan on restarting nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster, Kaieda broke down and cried after being criticized and questioned vigorously during a Diet debate.
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