Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda stormed to victory in a party leadership poll Friday, vowing to revamp his troubled ruling Democratic Party of Japan ahead of upcoming general elections.
Noda won more than 60 percent of points available in a vote by lawmakers, local assembly members and individual lay members in a weighted poll for party president, which at present automatically confers the post of premier.
Lawmakers’ votes count for more than those of other party members.
“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 lawmakers.
At a news conference, Noda hinted he would be reshuffling his cabinet after returning from the UN general Assembly in New York later this month.
“I think changes are possible, of course, in terms of strengthening our cabinet function,” Noda said. “Anyway, all I should do is to put the right people into the right posts.”
Noda’s re-election after a little over a year in the post was all but certain from the moment his telegenic environment minister Goshi Hosono decided against running for leadership.
Hosono, 41, who was seen as an electable leader for a party that is struggling in the opinion polls, would have become 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.
As premier and leader of the DPJ – currently the biggest party in parliament – Noda has pushed through unpopular legislation on doubling sales tax.
This, alongside general disenchantment with his once-popular party, has left many lawmakers fearing for their jobs in the general election expected this autumn.
However, a dearth of credible alternatives meant the contest was something of a formality for the premier.
He was challenged by three of his backbenchers: former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi and former agriculture ministers Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano.
“I have to make decisions even when the public is divided,” Noda told party members after the result was announced.
“I have felt the weight of this responsibility over the last year.
“Now I feel anew the graveness of my responsibility at a time we have difficulties at home and overseas.”
Noda also called on his party to speed up preparations for national elections, saying: “At any rate, lower and upper house elections are coming in the not-so-distant future.”
Noda has the power to dissolve the powerful lower house to call general polls any time before the chamber’s four-year term ends next autumn.
The DPJ came to power in 2009 after five decades of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, but its once-radical agenda was largely jettisoned.
Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister in as many years.