Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s prime minister, has beaten out three other contenders in a ruling party leadership election, and will remain Japan’s leader a while longer.
Noda won more than 60 per cent of points available in a vote by politicians, local assembly members and individual lay members on Friday in a weighted poll for party president, which at present automatically confers the post of prime minister.
Noda, in office for a year, won 818 points out of a total of 1,231 points, suggesting the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has rallied around him even as his approval rating has fallen below 30 per cent.
“I would like to beef up our teamwork so that we can shift the DPJ once again to make it a fighting force that can serve Japan,” Noda told his fellow politicians.
He had said he intended to call a national election “before long,” but has given no timeframe.
Lately, he has suggested he intends to stay on in office to try to finish tasks he set out to accomplish, including helping Japan deal with the impact of last year’s tsunami and nuclear crisis.
Noda’s re-election was all but certain from the moment his telegenic environment minister Goshi Hosono decided against taking a tilt at leadership.
Hosono, 41, who was seen as an electable leader for a party that is struggling in the opinion polls, would have been Japan’s youngest ever prime minister if he had won.
Under party rules, a leadership contest must be held every two years. That interval has now been extended to three years.
Voters appear to be disappointed in the DPJ’s inability to deliver promised change to Japan’s stodgy politics and are upset with Noda’s push to double the sales tax to 10 per cent, a step Noda argues is needed to meet increasing social security costs as Japan’s population ages and its national debt grows.
Polls suggest the DPJ would be badly defeated if elections were held now, and many analysts see the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning the most seats in the more powerful lower house, although falling short of a majority. Elections must be called by next September.
Noda played up his resolve to make tough decisions in a speech before Friday’s vote, promising to “sweat with all of you to make a vigorous Japan together”.
“The real reform Japan needs is decisive politics when we face issues that need to be decided,” Noda told party members gathered in a Tokyo hotel.
In addition to issues at home, Noda’s government has been pressured lately by a territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Vying against Noda in the DPJ president’s race were two former farm ministers, Michihiko Kano and Hirotaka Akamatsu, and a former internal affairs minister, Kazuhiro Haraguchi.