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September 26, 2017

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Noda set to win DPJ leadership ballot, lose PM post

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to defeat the three contenders he's facing off against in his ruling party's leadership election later this month — even though he may not be Japan's leader for much longer.

Noda and three others from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) — none of them high-profile politicians — announced Monday that they will run in the Sept. 21 poll. While Noda is expected to win that contest, his days as prime minister may be numbered due to widespread voter dismay over a perceived lack of leadership from his party.

Noda's approval rating has fallen below 30 percent after his government pushed through plans to double the sales tax to meet rising social security costs and restarted two nuclear reactors after all of them were shut down following last year's nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Surveys show the Japanese public overwhelmingly supports a complete phase-out of nuclear energy. Under party rules, there must be an election every two years for the job, which currently comes with the post of premier, but after his only serious rival ruled himself out, Noda's grip looks secure.

"I decided to run for the party presidential election as I can't abandon the task of rebuilding the party and revitalizing Japan," Noda told reporters as all four candidates gathered in Tokyo.

He admitted that in the 12 months since he became prime minister — at the time the sixth man in five years to do the job — the already ill-disciplined DPJ has disintegrated further.

"We have been able to overcome a huge mountain with legislation for the reform of social security and tax, but many members left the party and we are still suffering from that."

Noda's telegenic environment minister had been seen as a credible challenger until he ruled himself out of the running last week.

If he had won, 41-year-old Goshi Hosono would have been Japan's youngest ever prime minister.

Noda will face challenges from three of his backbenchers: former Internal Affairs Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, former Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, and another former Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano.

Observers say the factionally divided DPJ is likely to suffer at the hands of voters disappointed by their lackluster three years in office.

The DPJ came to power in 2009 after five decades of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). But its once-radical agenda was largely jettisoned.

The LDP is also in the throes of its own leadership tumult, with incumbent Sadakazu Tanigaki on Monday saying he would not run for re-election.

DPJ members vote on Sept. 21. The LDP ballot will come five days later.

LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki said on Monday he would not seek re-election. The party's former defence and foreign ministers are in contention, with media reporting that the party's current No.2 Nobuteru Ishihara and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also join the race slated for Sept. 26.

Over the weekend Toru Hashimoto, the populist governor of Osaka, began in earnest his push onto the national political stage, when he announced the name of the party that will put up candidates in the general election.

Commentators say Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Association) could play a significant role in the coalition-building that is expected after national polls in a country where no party enjoys a commanding lead.

Hashimoto's brand of muscular iconoclasm, combined with his boyish charm and his ability to put his finger on the political pulse have seen him catapulted to the forefront of the national debate over the last year.

He has said he will not run for parliament this time around, but reports Monday said seven sitting lawmakers are readying to leave their parties and stand as part of what is expected to be an influential slate.

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