Campaigning for the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election officially kicked off Saturday, with five candidates vying to succeed Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, ex-transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, trade minister Banri Kaieda, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and farm minister Michihiko Kano have just two days to win over the party’s 398 Diet members, who will vote Monday morning.
Because Kan’s two-year term as party president is not slated to end until September 2012, the party’s local assembly members and registered supporters are not allowed to participate in the vote.
The new party chief is expected to be appointed prime minister as early as Tuesday.
There is a possibility that none of the five contenders — a record number since the DPJ was formed in 1998 — will win a majority of the votes. In such an event, the new leader will be decided in a runoff the same day.
While the five lawmakers are running for president, the race is being shaped by long-standing internal rivalries. The main contenders are considered to be Kaieda, who is backed by party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, and Maehara and Noda, who are considered to be “anti-Ozawa.”
Ozawa is not allowed to vote because the party suspended his membership in February after he was specially indicted over a political funding scandal. However, he heads the largest internal group, which comprises about 120 loyal followers.
At a news conference with all five candidates hosted by the Japan National Press Club in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Saturday afternoon, Kaieda again said that he may lift Ozawa’s suspension.
According to various media polls, the public clearly favors Maehara. However, the ex-foreign minister admitted Saturday he had received donations from four foreigners and a firm headed by a foreigner between 2005 and 2010, in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.