Two-horse race for PM

DPJ faction backs another lawmaker

by Agencies
TOKYO - Two of the main potential contenders for the post of Japanese Prime Minister yesterday declared they would back frontrunner Naoto Kan, the nation's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, when the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) picks its leader today.

But what started as a virtual one-horse race turned into a contest last night, with news that a group close to veteran DPJ powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa was backing a relative unknown against Mr Kan.

Lawmakers in the faction of Mr Ozawa - the party secretary-general who had to resign on Wednesday along with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama - said they were supporting lower house lawmaker Shinji Tarutoko, 50, chairman of the party's environment committee.

Mr Tarutoko, arguing that the party needs a clean break with the past rather than choosing a member of Mr Hatoyama's cabinet, said: "One key phrase is generational change."

Mr Kan, for his part, attacked Mr Ozawa, who had to stand down due to a political funding scandal.

"I think it would be better for himself, the Japanese people and the party if he stays quiet at least for a while," Mr Kan said.

Earlier, Mr Kan met Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who had been seen as his most serious potential rival, and afterwards received his backing.

Mr Okada said that he wanted the next premier to tackle the DPJ's problems with money politics and exercise strong party leadership, adding: "Provided these two points are met, I told him, I support Mr Kan."

Mr Okada also said he wanted to stay in his post, telling reporters that he would dedicate himself to his duties as Foreign Minister.

Transport Minister Seiji Maehara, a telegenic young cabinet member who had been seen as another leadership contender, also offered his support.

"Our conclusion is, we will back Mr Kan. We were charged with a mission to shift the direction of Japanese politics when a political power change was achieved last year. Mr Kan has been determined to carry it out firmly."

Tokyo stocks rose more than 3 per cent yesterday, driven in part by the news that Mr Kan was likely to take over, brokers said.

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