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Noda Begins DPJ Re-Election Bid as Hashimoto Shakes Up Japan

Noda Begins Re-Election Bid as Hashimoto’s Party Shakes Up Japan
Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), from right, shakes hands with Hirotaka Akamatsu, former farm minister, as Kazuhiro Haraguchi, former internal affairs minister, and Michihiko Kano, former farm minister, during a joint news conference following the announcement of their candidacies for the party's leadership in Tokyo.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will be challenged by three rivals to lead Japan’s ruling party as it confronts a new political force headed by Osaka’s mayor ahead of elections that could come as early as October.

Noda is favored to win the Sept. 21 contest to head the Democratic Party of Japan, which is supported by less than one-fifth of the country’s voters. Former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, and Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano, each of whom have served as farm minister, announced their candidacies today.

Both the DPJ and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party have been undermined by the rise of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who has become Japan’s most popular politician with his attacks on the gridlock from a split parliament. Hashimoto on Sept. 8 announced the name of his new national party to vie in elections that Noda has pledged to call “soon.”

“Noda has no significant rivals but it’s a poisoned chalice because polls show the DPJ is headed for a shellacking,” said Jeff Kingston, head of Asian studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University in Philadelphia. “Hashimoto represents a substantial threat because there’s so much dissatisfaction with the two main parties.”

In a campaign policy outline released today, Noda pledged to end deflation within a year and build no more atomic plants in a country still reeling from last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. He also said he would nationalize islands at the center of a territorial dispute with China.

Restoration Party

Noda’s deal with the LDP to pass a bill doubling the five percent sales tax by 2015 to address soaring welfare costs and record debt split the ruling party. The opposition-controlled upper house passed a censure motion against Noda on Aug. 29 and blocked deficit-financing legislation, complicating efforts to sustain a recovery in the world’s third-largest economy.

Over the weekend, Hashimoto announced the formation of the Japan Restoration Party, which is aiming to field at least 300 candidates in the next lower house election. Hashimoto said he will not run so he can fulfill his term as Osaka mayor.

Seven lawmakers from three political parties, including three from the DPJ, took part in a public forum hosted by Hashimoto yesterday. The lawmakers will join the new party, Jiji Press reported today without citing anyone.

“The people’s number-one concern is economic policy and fiscal management and we have to clearly lay out what we’re going to do,” Hashimoto said.

Revolving Premiers

While the new party didn’t release a platform, the previously named One Osaka association has called for abolishing the upper house of parliament and holding direct elections for prime minister, both of which would require amending Japan’s postwar constitution for the first time.

Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister since 2006 and the third since the DPJ ousted the LDP from half a century of almost unbroken control in 2009. His approval ratings have fallen over his push to raise the sales tax and his decision to reactivate two atomic reactors.

Hashimoto’s party has 23.8 percent support, according to a Sankei FNN poll published on Sept. 4. The LDP, which also holds a leadership contest this month, had 21.7 percent support and the DPJ had 17.4 percent. Almost 65 percent of DPJ supporters back Noda in the party’s presidential contest, the Nikkei newspaper said on Aug. 27. Neither poll gave a margin of error.

LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki said today he won’t run for re-election in his party’s Sept. 26 contest. Candidates to replace him include Nobuteru Ishihara, the party’s No. 2 official, former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-defense chief Shigeru Ishiba.

Elections for the 480-seat lower house must be called by August 2013.

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