Reuters: The race to pick Japan’s sixth leader in five years appeared on Friday to be shaping up as a battle between the most popular contender and a rival backed by a party powerbroker, although with five candidates in play, the outcome was hard to call.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who came under fire for his response to the massive March tsunami and the radiation crisis it triggered, stepped down as ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader, clearing the way for the Democrats to pick a successor on Monday.
“I want to make every effort to realise a society that does not rely on nuclear power,” Kan told a news conference. Kan’s proposed energy policy shift is backed by most voters, but he was unable to parlay that public support into popularity.
NHK public TV said party powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa would back Trade Minister Banri Kaieda, who has distanced himself from Kan’s tough anti-nuclear power stance, rather than Seiji Maehara, a former foreign minister who ranks high with ordinary voters. Maehara, a security hawk, has called for phasing out nuclear power by around 2030.
Kan’s successor faces huge challenges, including a strong yen seen as a threat to the export-reliant economy, rebuilding from the devastation of the March disasters, ending the radiation crisis at a crippled nuclear plant, forging a new energy policy, and curbing huge public debt while funding the bulging social welfare costs of an ageing society.
Rating agency Moody’s this week downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt a notch, citing its revolving-door leadership as an obstacle to effective economic policies.
With five lawmakers including Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda jostling for the job, a run-off between the top two candidates might be needed if none wins a majority in the first vote.
“The question is who will be the two top candidates — Meahara and maybe Kaieda, and how other groups would go in a second round,” Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano said.