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Naoto Kan leading contender to take over DPJ

Date Posted: 2010-06-03

Only hours after the #1 and #2 men in the Democratic Party of Japan quit their posts, lawmakers are scrambling to bring order back into the government before voters become distrustful.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama called it quits Wednesday morning, and his DPJ Secretary General, Ichiro Ozawa, did likewise only minutes later. “I apologize for the amount of confusion caused,” the Prime Minister said during an address to a meeting of lawmakers in a joint DPJ session at the Diet.

The DPJ is moving quickly to fill the void, calling a party meeting Friday morning to elect a new leader. Naoto Kan, currently the Deputy Prime Minister, is considered the odds-on favorite to succeed Hatoyama. Hajime Ishii, a DPJ Lower House member, says the DPJ “doesn’t have much time” to look around, and “there’s no question that Kan is a candidate, since we need to make a quick decision.”

Even as party members were reeling in shock, Upper House member and DPJ lawmaker Koji Matsui said the time is now right for the DPJ to “regain what it once had, change from within and reform itself.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano assured the public the government will remained composed and continue its duties until a new Prime Minister is chosen.

That could come as early as Friday afternoon, when the DPJ convenes for a second time in the day. With Naoto Kan expected to be selected party leader, logic and protocol indicates he’ll be chosen Prime Minister, too.

Opposition party members, including Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tadamori Oshima, are criticizing Hatoyama’s resignation, saying “the resignation of the prime minister is merely like changing the costumes in order to trick the public.” The LDP was already in the process of preparing to submit a no-confidence motion and a non-binding censure motion in the Diet. Oshima says Hatoyama’s actions will move the LDP to “seek to have the Lower House dissolved now.”

Hatoyama’s fortunes began falling apart last Friday when he approved moving the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to the Henoko/Camp Schwab area following a path the LDP had approved while running the country in 2006. Hours later he tangled with Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima, who was also Consumer Affairs Minister in his Cabinet. He wanted her to vote in line with the rest of the Cabinet members on the Futenma issue, she refused, and he fired her. A day later, Fukushima pulled her tiny SDP from the government coalition led by the DPJ, deepening concerns from lawmakers that Hatoyama should leave before he ruined the upcoming Upper House elections for DPJ candidates. Before the weekend was over, public opinion polls were to show his popularity plummeting to 17%. That’s 60% lower than when he took office eight months ago.

Ozawa, who’s been plagued by a funds scandal of his own, resigned too, reportedly at the request of Hatoyama. Hatoyama said “I never imagined myself being embroiled in a political funds scandal,” and worried that Ozawa’s case, which involved purchase irregularities in buying a plot of Tokyo land in 2004, would mar the upcoming elections. Ozawa resigned as DPJ president over the case, but remained as Secretary-General until now.

Hatoyama also has encouraged a DPJ Lower House member, Chiyomi Kobayashi, to step down immediately. Kobayashi is embroiled in another scandal involving illegal donations.

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