TOKYO, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Top Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) executives decided Thursday to support underdog Shinji Tarutoko, a relatively unknown lawmaker from Japan's ruling DPJ in his leadership race against Naoto Kan, the party's finance minister, who was thought to be a shoo-in for the DPJ's top post.
Lawmakers close to outgoing Secretary-General Ozawa decided to support Tarutoko's leadership run tomorrow following an executive meeting at which it was decided the DPJ needs to present itself in a new light and with a new "clean" image, sources close to the matter said, meaning it is possibly no longer a one-horse-race for the leadership.
Speaking in a nationally televised news conference Tarutoko reiterated his plans to stand as a candidate to succeed Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama who abruptly announced his intention to resign after eight months in office on Wednesday.
"I want the DPJ to have a fresh start and the people of Japan to have high hopes for the party," said Tarutoko.
"As prime minister I would seek to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Diet by 80 and seek a new direction for politics in Japan."
"Mr. Hatoyama paid a large price over his decisions regarding the Futenma relocation issue and I will abide by the agreement made with the U.S., however, I will work hard to make changes to the Okinawa situation in the long term," he said.
When asked about his affiliation to pro-Ozawa executives Tarutoko replied," It's absurd to categorize members regarding their closeness to Mr. Ozawa. Those lawmakers who are close to Mr. Ozawa are wanting to show collectively that the DPJ is working hard to change it's tainted image."
Tarutoko, is a DPJ lawmaker, heads the lower house environment committee and is known as one of seven members of a group led by party elder Kozo Watanabe that has distanced itself from party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.
For his part, Naoto Kan, who many political pundits believe is the frontrunner to succeed Hatoyama, said in a news conference directly after Tarutoko's that his focus as DPJ leader and prime minister would be to run a clean government that was less exposed to the influence of ruling party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa and free from money scandals. The 63 year old political veteran said that his primary focus would be on rejuvenating the nation.
"A lot of Japanese people entrusted the DPJ to rejuvenate the country and I plan to achieve this purpose and this is why I am running for leader and this is what I told Mr. Hatoyama yesterday, " Kan said.
"There are a number of strategies for economic growth and financial health already underway, but yet to come to fruition because of the Futenma base issue in Okinawa. Mr. Hatoyama stepped down to remove such obstacles," the finance minister said.
Kan also said as leader he will make continued efforts to reduce the burden of hosting U.S. military bases on Okinawa Prefecture based on the Japan-U.S. accord reached last week.
Registration of candidates will start Friday morning, and a meeting of DPJ legislators in both houses of the Diet will be held from 11 a.m., with a vote taken after speeches by candidates. The party leader will be selected from the votes of 307 members of the House of Representatives and 116 members of the House of Councilors.
Whoever leads the DPJ will almost certainly become the next prime minister in line with the party's strength at parliament.
The new leader's term will serve Hatoyama's remaining term that lasts until the end of September.