Japan is looking at the possibility of having its sixth prime minister in three years. Naoto Kan, in office for just three months, is fighting a challenge from Ichiro Ozawa, a long-time powerbroker in the Democratic Party of Japan. The rivalry threatens to rip apart the party.

Volunteers at the campaign headquarters of Ichiro Ozawa work the phones - calling members of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Ozawa, a long-time political insider referred to as Japan's "shadow shogun," is fighting to win the party leadership in a vote on Tuesday. If he wins, he replaces Naoto Kan as prime minister.

Ozawa pledges to turn around the country's moribund economy with old-fashioned spending.

The challenger says he will also tear down the walls of the bureaucracy. He says if he promises to do something, he can be counted on to accomplish it.

Cautious approach

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's approach is more cautious - saying additional jobs, not government spending, hold the key to revitalizing Japan.

Mr. Kan expresses his appreciation toward those, he says, who understand what he is trying to accomplish.

He has significantly more support than his rival among the general public.

Political science professor Jeffrey Kingston, at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, predicts that the Democrats will pay a heavy price if they choose Ozawa.

"Electing him basically would be a disaster for the party because on a four-to-one margin the public favors Kan," Kingston said. "The Japanese people are fed up with this [Ozawa's] style politics. And if the politicians who owe Ozawa do give him the backing and hand him the premiership I think the voters will never forgive the DPJ."

DPJ members of Parliament - and, to a lesser degree, local party officials and the rank and file -- but not the public, decide the winner. The party controls the Lower House of Parliament, so it will continue to select the prime minister.


One problem for Ozawa is his reputation. He is seen as an old-style, behind-the-scenes powerbroker. And he has been accused of corruption. A judicial panel is soon to decide whether Ozawa should be indicted over a political funding scandal.

Political analysts say should he win the party leadership, ethics scandals could make him a weak and short-term leader.

Professor Kingston says a victory for Prime Minister Kan might cause a different set of problems for the governing party.

"It just looks like the DPJ is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic," Kingston said. "If Kan becomes premier I expect that Ozawa may bolt the party and there may be some [members of Parliament] he'll take along with him."

Prime Minister Kan, who previously held the health and finance portfolios in different governments, has no background in diplomacy. With only a few months in office, he has had little time to formulate foreign policy, distracted by Japan's economic woes and the leadership challenge from within his own party.

Possible changes

Ozawa, as prime minister, could bring significant foreign policy changes, however.  He opposes a plan to move a U.S. military base from one part of Okinawa to another. He also has pushed strongly for Japan to improve ties with China.

Japan has seen a series of prime ministers in the past three years - Mr. Kan is the fifth, and the third in just over a year. The DPJ last year defeated the Liberal Democrat Party, which had dominated Japanese politics for six decades. Three Liberal Democrat prime ministers failed to turn around the economy, or to build strong public support.

But Yukio Hatoyama, who was the first DPJ prime minister, resigned after less than a year in office, because he failed to carry out a campaign promise over the U.S. base on Okinawa.