Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan Wins Party Vote to Stay in Power

Article excerpt

Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan was reelected head of the ruling Democratic Party on Tuesday, surviving a challenge from scandal- tainted Ichiro Ozawa and sparing Japan another leadership change.

After months of riding a political merry-go-round, Japan's governing party opted for a modicum of stability today when it gave its overwhelming backing to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and avoided changing prime ministers for the third time in a year.

The former political activist became prime minister just three months ago and on Tuesday easily defeated his only rival, the scandal-tainted Ichiro Ozawa, in a race for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and by extension the spot of prime minister.

The election campaign exposed deep divisions inside the party over economic policy. Kan wants to rein in debt to avoid a Greek- style crisis and has so far showed little inclination to intervene in the foreign exchange market, while Mr. Ozawa favors fiscal stimulus and bold currency intervention.

After appearing to dally with the idea of an Ozawa-led party, the DPJ is at least in synch with voters, who in opinion polls leading up to the leadership election prefered Kan to his challenger by a margin of 4 to 1.

Still, Kan's margin of victory was wider than many pundits had expected: He won by 721 points to Ozawa's 491 in a weighted voting system involving members of Parliament (MPs) and rank-and-file DPJ members.

Power of public opinion

MPs who might once have been expected to support Ozawa had abandoned him out of self-interest, according to Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

"The prediction was that many MPs owed him for the party's election victory last year, but they were also worried about defying public opinion," he told the Monitor. "They realized that Ozawa as leader would be a disaster for them and for the party."

As it was, Ozawa, who has earned a reputation as a fearless backroom dealmaker in his 40-year-career, could only smile and offer a handshake after being trounced by his rival. …

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