Japan's defeated LDP searches for new leader

TOKYO, Sept 19, 2009 (AFP) - Three lawmakers from Japan's Liberal Democratic Party held a public debate Saturday as they campaigned to become the next leader of the party which is struggling to rebuild following its election defeat.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, 64, a political dove who has held a number of cabinet posts, including finance minister and land minister, is up against younger rivals Taro Kono and Yasutoshi Nishimura, both 46.

Sadakazu Tanigaki made an unsuccessful bid for the LDP leadership in 2006 (AFP photo)

"We can rebuild the party if we work together as a team," Tanigaki said at the debate.

The leadership election, to be held at the end of this month, comes after the LDP experienced the biggest election defeat in its history, deeply shocking its members and creating a power vacuum in the party.

Many LDP elders lost their long-held legislative seats in the August 30 polls.

The victorious centre-left Democratic Party of Japan formed a coalition government with two small parties under new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Voter anger had mounted against the LDP, which had ruled Japan nearly continuously since 1955, as Japan's economic woes continued in recent years amid accusations of wasteful public spending and unfair policies under conservative rule.

Soft-spoken Tanigaki, a consensus builder who is well-versed in economic policies, is seen as enjoying support from major figures within the party.

Kono, a passionate maverick also with profound policy knowledge, voiced sharp criticism of the ways of the LDP elders and backroom dealmaking, and stressed the need for a complete overhaul of the party.

"I am against working as a team," Kono said.

"We should not bring to the team people with the bad traditions of the LDP. They should be watching us on the sidelines," he said.

Kono also claimed that party elders pushed Nishimura to run in the leadership contest to divide votes among younger LDP members to ensure Tanigaki's victory.

Nishimura denied the allegation, but refrained from discussing specific policy direction should he become the next LDP leader.

It will be the second time the LDP chooses a new leader while out of power.

In 1993, Kono's father and former lower house speaker Yohei Kono became party president and the only LDP leader not to become prime minister.

Source: AFP

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