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Kan, Ozawa neck-in-neck as election approaches

Date Posted: 2010-09-08

Naoto Kan seems to enjoy being Prime Minister of Japan, but former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa is coveting the position, with the race moving down to the wire before next Tuesday’s election.

Surveys less than a week before the September 14th Democratic Party of Japan presidential election show the margin between the two veteran politicians too close to call, with each carrying his own segment of supporters, and his own ‘baggage’. Kan is leading Ozawa when it comes to support pledges from local DPJ assembly members, but that may well not be enough. All 412 DPJ Diet members are eligible to cast votes in next Tuesday’s balloting for a party president, with roughly half of those members serving their first term. Kan and Ozawa each have garnered support pledges from as many as 70-80 of these freshman Diet members.

Ozawa’s already amassed support from more than 70% of the members of his own group, while 20% remain uncommitted and eight lawmakers saying they’re switching support to Kan. Likewise, about 70% of Kan’s inner circle, mostly cabinet ministers and lawmakers, say they’ll support him. Close to half of the DPJ members who used to belong to the Democratic Socialist Party have been mum on who they’ll support, as are members of a group led by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Within the Japan Socialist Party, 30% haven’t stipulated how they’ll vote.

Ozawa’s expected to gain hefty support both in his native Iwate Prefecture, and also from Okinawa Prefecture. He hopes to parlay some of the anti-Kan sentiment over the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation to his side. The Futenma issue had been bantered about until a week ago, when Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told officials he thought debating the relocation issue was inappropriate before the DPJ election.

Kan has been criticizing Ozawa’s ideas on changing and improving Japan’s economy, while Ozawa has been hammering away at how Kan’s performance has been lackluster. Japan’s now struggling with a weak and slumping economy, a rising yen, not to mention a lame approach to foreign policy and even handling of the Okinawa issue.

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