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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002

Kan wins duel with Okada, returns to helm of the DPJ

Naoto Kan returned to the helm of the Democratic Party of Japan on Tuesday, winning a two-man leadership contest with Katsuya Okada.

News photo
The two contenders in Tuesday's DPJ leadership election -- Naoto Kan (left) and Katsuya Okada -- answer reporters' questions before the vote.

Kan, 56, who headed the nation's largest opposition party in 1998 and 1999, won 104 votes cast by DPJ Diet members, against 79 garnered by the 49-year-old Okada.

Okada, who had wide support among younger lawmakers and the party's conservative ranks, was perceived to be leading the race until the last moment.

But DPJ lawmakers chose the more widely known Kan to replace the outgoing leader, Yukio Hatoyama.

Following his election, Kan stressed that reviving the DPJ, plagued by sagging voter support, would be impossible unless the party unites.

In the immediate wake of his victory, Kan asked Okada to take up the No. 2 post of secretary general, with Okada later telling reporters he would accept the offer.

Kan is expected to officially replace Hatoyama on Friday, when the current extraordinary session of the Diet ends.

His tenure as party chief will last through the end of September 2004, as he will serve the remainder of Hatoyama's two-year term.

The vote was held at a general assembly of DPJ members from both chambers of the Diet.

In a speech to party members before the vote, Okada said that, if elected, he would immediately establish a body aimed at mapping out a clear vision whereby the party could overthrow the current administration, led by the Liberal Democratic Party.

He also stressed the need to draw up guidelines to punish those who try to "damage party unity."

Meanwhile, Kan said he would focus on Diet debate with members of the ruling camp, along with waging a nationwide campaign to win back voter support for the party. He said he would leave internal party matters to the secretary general.

Both Okada and Kan strove to solicit support from the party ranks until the last minute.

Hatoyama announced his resignation last week amid mounting disarray and criticism over his proposal to create an opposition alliance with the Liberal Party.

The influence of Hatoyama, one of the DPJ's key founding members and party chief since 1999, had dwindled rapidly since his narrow re-election over Kan in September.

Criticism of Hatoyama mounted after he chose Kansei Nakano to serve as his No. 2 man, a move that was widely considered to constitute a reward for Nakano's cooperation with his re-election campaign. He also came under fire when the DPJ won just one of the seven Diet by-elections held in October.

When Hatoyama announced his resignation, Kan was seen as his most likely successor, although younger lawmakers and supporters of Hatoyama later leaned toward Okada.

The conservative ranks of the party meanwhile were viewed as holding a deep-seated antipathy toward Kan.

In order to avoid a heated campaign that could split the party, Kan asked Okada to give up his candidacy and offered him the post of secretary general.

Okada declined, fearing that "behind closed doors" negotiations of this kind would prompt criticism.

Kan is a longtime antiestablishment lawmaker and is one of the founding members of the DPJ.

His articulate and aggressive debating style is rated highly in Japanese political circles, even by his opponents within the ruling coalition.

He claimed nationwide fame after he helped expose an HIV scandal while serving as health minister in 1996.

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The Japan Times

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