Another prime minister for Japan?

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

LISA MULLINS: Japan's prime minister faces a leadership challenge from his own party. The prime minister is Naoto Kan. He's been in office just three months now. The challenger is Ichiro Ozawa. He's a veteran powerbroker in the ruling Democrat Party of Japan. Party members will vote for their leader tomorrow. A victory by Kan would keep him in the prime minister's office. An Ozawa win would give Japan its third prime minister in the past year. From Tokyo, Akiko Fujita has this profile of the man some have dubbed a �shadow shogun.�

AKIKO FUJITA: Ichiro Ozawa is a familiar face in Japanese politics. He's often credited with engineering the Democratic Party of Japan's historic win last fall, which unseated the party that ruled Japan for nearly 50 years. Still, Ozawa's decision to run for party leadership this month surprised many. Three months ago, he stepped down as his party's second in command amid a political funding scandal. Ozawa hasn't been indicted in that criminal investigation, but he remains an unpopular figure on Tokyo streets.


FUJITA: Voter Sachio Lily says Ozawa may be an aggressive politician, but he isn't what Japan needs right now. We can't afford to go through another change in leadership. Ozawa's bid to become his party's new leader comes just months after the current Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, took office. His predecessor served for less than a year. A struggling economy and political funding scandals have led to low approval ratings for the DPJ's first year in power. And Ozawa's gaffes haven't helped either.


FUJITA: Last month, Ozawa raised eyebrows when he called Americans �simple-minded� at a political seminar. He said that �he liked Americans but often wondered why they were so monocellular.� In that same seminar, Ozawa called the US a �great democracy� where an African American could become President, despite rumors that a black leader �would be assassinated.� Those comments grabbed headlines, and they raised concerns about how Ozawa's views might affect US-Japan relations. But Political Scientist Tsuneo Watanabe says people shouldn't take too much from Ozawa's comments. He's not pro or anti-US. He's pro-Ozawa.

TSUNEO WATANABE: Ozawa's objective is to grab the power and the money. Policy itself is not goal. Goal is power.

FUJITA: Watanabe says Ozawa aggressively fought to provide on the ground support for US troops during the first Gulf War. But in recent years he's sought closer ties with China. Last year, he visited Beijing with other Japanese lawmakers and met with President Hu Jin Tao. Watanabe says that visit was seen as Ozawa's effort to distance himself from the US. Ozawa himself is not winning any popularity contests. Polls suggest two-thirds of Japanese voters prefer his rival. But those voters don't have a say in Tuesday's party leadership election. For The World, I'm Akiko Fujita in Tokyo.