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Maehara, Edano to face off in race to elect new Democratic Party leader

Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara of the opposition Democratic Party, left, and former Secretary-General Yukio Edano. (Mainichi)

Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Yukio Edano, the former secretary-general of Japan's largest opposition party, have filed their candidacies in the Democratic Party (DP) leadership election announced on Aug. 21, paving the way for a one-on-one duel.

The replacement for current leader Renho, who announced she will step down from the helm of the party following the DP's poor performance in the July Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, will be decided in an extraordinary party convention on Sept. 1. House of Representatives legislator Yosei Ide had also considered standing as a candidate, but bowed out as he was unable to obtain recommendations from 20 DP legislators.

The race between Maehara and Edano is likely to focus on efforts to rehabilitate the party, and its direction in cooperating with other opposition parties in the next general election.

"It's an extremely important election presenting people with an option that could replace the Liberal Democratic Party," Maehara told reporters on the morning of Aug. 21. "I see this as the culmination of my political career, with nothing else beyond it."

Edano spoke to reporters about the DP's future, saying, "The test will be whether it can shed its skin to become a party of the people with its feet on the ground. I want to be a major motivator in regenerating the party."

Maehara has support from his own group within the DP, as well as from groups including that of former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akihiro Ohata, and a group of legislators led by Yorihisa Matsuno who belonged to the former Japan Innovation Party. A total of five of the eight main groups within the DP support Maehara, which gives him the advantage in votes from legislators.

Maehara appears reluctant to cooperate with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in elections, stating, "When cooperating with parties whose policy principles don't match, it can't be helped if we're viewed as being in an illicit union or an election benefit society."

On the issue of the consumption tax hike slated for October 2019, Maehara said taxpayers "should be asked to shoulder an appropriate burden" to help make education free and to enrich social security. In the Sept. 1 election, he plans to stick by his basic policy of "all for all."

Edano, meanwhile, has the support of the group of former farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, as well as former party leader Katsuya Okada. On Aug. 21, he expressed his resistance toward increasing Japan's sales tax to 10 percent, saying Japan was not in a position to do so considering current economic conditions and the recent reduction in corporate tax.

During last summer's House of Councillors election, Edano led cooperation with other parties including the JCP. He suggested he would take the same approach in the next lower house election, saying it was an issue of political technique, deciding where the party could draw a line where the parties came to terms, rather than a case of opposing lines.

The DP has been shaken by its lackluster performance in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and the departure of members including former Minister of the Environment Goshi Hosono. The ability of the new leader to bring the DP together while keeping an eye on the structure of a new party backed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is thus likely to be tested.

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