Will beaten opposition go for fresh face or old guard?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2005, 12:00am

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has rid the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of much of its old guard; whether the humbled opposition will be able to do the same to its own is open to question.

The Democratic Party of Japan, still licking its wounds after a sound beating at the hands of the electorate, will vote on a new party president on Saturday following Katsuya Okada's resignation after losing 64 seats in Sunday's lower house poll.

The choice that the party's Diet members face is between a fresh generation of politician or the steadying hand of experience.

'It is possible that senior party members may be able to work out a compromise candidate ahead of the election on Saturday, but if that is not possible a new leader will be chosen from the two or more candidates put forward,' said Yukihisa Fujita, who lost his Tokyo seat in the election.

'If they feel a veteran leader should lead the party and the country in the future, then they will choose either Naoto Kan or Ichiro Ozawa,' he said. 'If they believe a younger generation of leader will be more effective, then names such as Yoshihiko Noda and Seiji Maehara have been mentioned.'

Both Mr Ozawa and Mr Kan are regarded as capable and charismatic leaders with experience of heading parties. Mr Ozawa was president of the Liberal Party before it merged with the DPJ in September 2003, while Mr Kan was the DPJ leader before Mr Okada took over in May 2004.

But reverting to what worked relatively well in the past - even though neither man made prime minister - would be a grave mistake, said Go Ito, a professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo.

'The DPJ is a very seniority-based organisation and many of its members were formerly members of the Tanaka faction within the LDP who grew tired of its failure to reform,' Professor Ito said.

'After setting up new parties, they were all forced to step down and Mr Okada was brought in as a new generation of leader.

'I believe that if they can elect a younger leader it will be the first step to rebuilding the party's strategies,' he said.

'Sticking with an old face shows there has been no real change and it will be difficult for the party to come up with policies that will allow them to win power.'

The two 'young Turks' mentioned as possible leaders have already held key positions within the party; Mr Noda, 48, is the shadow minister of finance, while 43-year-old Mr Maehara is the party's hawkish shadow security minister.