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Hatoyama wins DPJ post; LDP quickly criticizes

Date Posted: 2009-05-21

The Democratic Party of Japan selected Yukio Hatoyama to take over the beleaguered presidency dragged down by a scandal linking his successor, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party calls the choice more of the same.

Hatoyama swept past a more popular candidate for the post, taking the reins of a party torn by Ichiro Ozawa, who resigned amidst allegations he was involved in a fundraising scandal led by his key aide.

Hatoyama, grandson of a former prime minister, was chosen party president with 124 votes cast by DPJ Diet members, to 95 for Katsuya Okada, who had led in public opinion polls in the days leading up to the party election.

Depending on results of a Lower House general election, Hatoyama could find himself in the top leadership spot before the year ends, but the Liberal Democratic Party says he’ll be a disappointment to the nation because he’s under the thumb of Ozawa. The DPJ denies the allegation, and Hatoyama is calling on its party members to demand explanations of his predecessor’s involvement in the scandal.

The LDP points to Hatoyama’s declarations he’ll give Ozawa a post in the new party hierarchy, a move that infuriates the senior vice minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Hideaki Omura. Omura says Hatoyama’s party regime “will be nothing but a puppet regime of Mr. Ozawa.” The LDP politician said Katsuya Okada, who lost the party election, would have been a more formidable opponent in the upcoming national elections.

LDP faithful say they believe victory in the elections will be strengthened by the public’s mistrust of the new DPJ leadership tainted by connections to Ozawa. Hatoyama says he’ll put Okada in a key part position, along with another for Ozawa, telling his party “I would like both Okada and Ozawa to take key posts.” He acknowledged that Ozawa has not been forthcoming in explaining his role in the scandal involving his chief secretary. “I want him to go around the country and face questions from the people,” said Hatoyama.

Public opinion polls had indicated Okada, with a clean public image and record, was more popular, but DPJ members cast ballots for Ozawa’s right-hand man anyway. The ruling LDP predicts the DPJ’s influence is now diminishing.

Despite that, snap opinion polls taken immediately after the balloting suggests Hatoyama has the strength to defeat incumbent prime minister Taro Aso. The nationwide survey showed Hatoyama with a nearly 44% rating, compared to Prime Minister Taro Aso, who garnered only 32%. In opinion surveys only a month ago, Aso held a 13.7% lead over then DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. Even as the 1,02 survey participants picked Hatoyama over Aso, it showed more than 82% saying they believe Ozawa will still have power and influence over the DPJ’s activities.

In another poll conducted by Fuji Television, the results were more mixed. Respondents asked about their belief Hatoyama could boost the DPJ, 41.6% thought he would, while 49.4% said no, he wouldn’t. The poll showed 35% thought Hatoyama was a better choice for party president than Okada, but 45.4% said he wasn’t. The poll margin supporting Hatoyama was much closer, with Hatoyama favored by 37.7%, while 33.1% favored the current prime minister.

In yet another poll, this one by TBS, Hatoyama scored a 37% ~ 30% lead over Aso. Aso’s cabinet also picked up a bit in the ratings to nearly 32%, a difference from the Fuji TV poll, which showed it losing a percentage point. On a positive note for the LDP, the survey showed it leads in support over the opposition with a 3.5% increase to 27.3%, while the DPJ picked up a point to 23.5%.

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