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MNI (London)
Repeats Story Initially Transmitted at 06:31 GMT Sep 1/02:31 EST Sep 1
--Democratic Party Hopes To Challenge Ruling Coalition
--Uncertain If Maehara Leadership To Boost Diet Election Win Chance 
     TOKYO (MNI) - Japan's main opposition Democratic Party on Friday elected
Seiji Maehara as its new leader, hoping to challenge the dominance of the ruling
coalition in parliament.
     Maehara, 55, a former foreign minister, represents conservative members in
the party and served as party leader from 2005 to 2006.
     He won a total of 502 points from DP lawmakers, party members and
supporters, beating the other candidate, Yukio Edano, who gained 332 points.
Edano, 53, a liberal lawyer-turned-lawmaker, held various cabinet posts from
2010 to 2012, including the chief cabinet secretary.
     Both of them called for correcting inequality which they blamed Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party for spreading
throughout society by cutting welfare spending while giving tax credits to big
business. They called for reinforcing the social safety net.
     "Let me stand in front of the rough sea. Let's take the power back from the
LDP," Maehara said in a speech Friday just before the vote.
     For his part, Edano said, "Let's win the next election and go to the next
stage."
     Edano believes the party must be more realistic and win more seats in the
Diet by teaming up with other opposition parties including the Communist Party,
which has gained popularity in recent years with its persistent opposition to
raising the sales tax and sending troops overseas.
     Maehara wants to review the DP's existing cooperation with the Communist
Party in fielding candidates in national elections.
     Both Maehara and Edano were first elected to the Lower House of the Diet in
1993.
     It is uncertain whether the election of Maehara will boost public support
for the Democratic Party as its reform plans overlap with those of the
government, including providing equal opportunities to all students wishing to
go to university regardless of their parents' income levels.
     The government is also seeking a better work-life balance by encouraging
firms and workers to cut notoriously long working hours and helping increase the
number of day-care services. It has been raising minimum wages while urging
firms with record profits to share more wealth with workers.
     There is speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may dissolve the Lower
House and call a snap election this year while the main opposition Democratic
Party is still reeling from the resignation of its leader last month over fading
support from voters and party members.
     Through late July, public support for the Abe cabinet continued to slide
over its handling of several political scandals, casting doubt over his
leadership.
     At the time, a survey by the Nikkei and TV Tokyo showed the approval rating
of the Abe cabinet plunged to 39%, down 10 percentage points from June, while
the disapproval rating rose 10 percentage points to 52%. That was the highest
disapproval level since December 2012 after Abe returned to power by leading the
Liberal Democratic Party to a landslide win in Lower House elections.
     But public support for Abe's cabinet edged up by four percentage points to
46% at the weekend, rising from the level seen in early August after Abe
reshuffled the cabinet, the Nikkei reported Monday.
     The government disapproval rating fell to 46%, down 3 points, according to
the latest survey by the Nikkei and its affiliate TV Tokyo conducted over the
weekend.
     During the three years it was in power at the national level before losing
to the LDP in late 2013, the Democratic Party failed to implement
growth-oriented structural reforms, instead placing too much focus on cutting
"wasteful" spending.
     It also alienated bureaucrats by making controversial political decisions
and mishandled some political issues, including how to reduce the large presence
of U.S. forces on the southern island of Okinawa, the site of fierce battles in
the closing days of World War II.
     The Democratic Party imploded amid political infighting and the ill-fated
decision by the then prime minister Yoshihiko Noda to dissolve the Lower House
and call a snap election in late 2012, in which the party suffered a severe
loss, allowing the LDP and its leader Abe to return to power.
     Until recently Abe was seen leading the LDP to another easy victory in the
next Lower House election that must be called by mid-December 2018. But it is
now uncertain whether Abe will ride out the slump in public support and be
re-elected for an unprecedented third term as party chief, and thus prime
minister, in September next year.
     On July 2, the LDP suffered a stinging defeat in Tokyo metropolitan
assembly elections, dealing a blow to Abe, who had already seen public support
for his government slide over a school scandal.
     Opposition parties have charged that Abe showed favoritism to a close
friend over plans to open a veterinary faculty in a special deregulation zone as
part of the government's growth strategy.
     Abe's critics have said he has been too arrogant in policymaking at the
national level on the back of the majority the governing coalition holds in both
chambers of parliament.
     Public anger also grew over a scandal involving the Defense Ministry.
     Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resigned in July over a ministry cover-up of
daily activity logs on peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, but denied that
she was directly involved.
--MNI Tokyo Bureau; tel: +81 90-4670-5309; email: max.sato@marketnews.com
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com

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