TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s battle-scarred main opposition party Wednesday began choosing a new leader as it tries to recover from a disastrous showing in December’s general election and from years of drift.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s crushing win in national polls last month – his second in two years – was believed by some commentators to be largely due to the absence of a credible alternative.
The Democratic Party of Japan, which governed for three years until December 2012, won just 73 seats in the 475-seat lower house. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has 291 seats.
Three heavyweights lined up Wednesday to present their cases for taking his place, all trying to put the party back on an even keel.
The presumptive frontrunner is one-time leader Katsuya Okada, a 61-year-old Harvard-trained former deputy prime minister. He is widely known for his policy knowledge and strict self-discipline including refusal to accept all gifts – even Valentine’s Day chocolate.
Okada faces challenges from the telegenic Goshi Hosono, 43, a media-savvy former minister in charge of handling the Fukushima atomic crisis and from Akira Nagatsuma, 54, known for his desire to refashion the public pension system.
Whoever wins will have his work cut out rebuilding public trust in the nominally centre-left party, whose three years in power to December 2012 were characterised by power struggles, policy flip-flops and diplomatic mis-steps.