Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) President Katsuya Okada vowed Monday to work to take power in three-plus years as the party's top decision-making congress approved his new two-year term as leader of the country's largest opposition party.
With no national election likely in the near future, maintaining unity within the party, which merged with the Liberal Party in September last year, appears to be Okada's top challenge.
But Okada appointed the influential Ichiro Ozawa, the former head of the Liberal Party, to no key post due to differences between them over the party's security policy.
On the foreign policy front, the newly appointed shadow foreign minister Yukio Hatoyama called for an emphasis on Asia while keeping the relationship with the United States as central task.
At a news conference after their first meeting following the congress meeting, shadow ministers criticized the current government over such issues as its plan to address last month's crash of a US military helicopter by improving the way that the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement is operated rather than revising the pact.
The DPJ will increase pressure on the government to convene an extraordinary Diet session at an early date to discuss such key issues as oney politics, pension reform, and the US Marine helicopter crash in south Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, Okada said during his news conference.
The DPJ, which saw large gains in last November's lower house election and the House of Councilors election on July 11, is becoming a growing threat to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
"Realizing a power transfer in the next general election is my only and utmost mission," said Okada, 51, in an address to the congress, referring to the lower house election to take place within three-plus years.
"Let's accomplish together the huge task of bringing about the first major power change in postwar Japan, whatever may happen," he said, reiterating that the coming two years will be significant to that end.
More than 1,100 people attended the extraordinary meeting of the party congress, including the DPJ's 256 lawmakers and likely candidates in the next lower house election. The LDP now has 360 members in the parliament.
The party congress also approved the new lineups of the DPJ executive board, Standing Officers Council, and shadow Cabinet under Okada, who was given his new term uncontested after succeeding Naoto Kan in May.
Okada said he plans to keep most of the shadow Cabinet members if the party takes power in the next House of Representatives election, which is to be held by November 2007.
"I think the public will have a grasp of reality of what kind of government we will form as the outline of this Cabinet will be maintained when we take power," Okada said.
The new roster of the so-called Next Cabinet features former party leaders Hatoyama as shadow foreign minister, Kan as shadow land, infrastructure and transport minister, and Takahiro Yokomichi, former DPJ vice president, as shadow welfare minister.
Okada has promoted unity and harmony in the party by taking into consideration the concerns of various party factions and filling key posts from among their members.
In the new leadership, Tatsuo Kawabata, the DPJ's parliament affairs chief, took the party's No. 2 post of secretary general, replacing Hirohisa Fujii, who became acting president. Acting DPJ Secretary General Yoshio Hachiro became the DPJ's new parliament affairs committee chairman.
The party congress approved setting up a strategic panel under Okada and the appointment of Michihiko Kano to the new post of chairman of the Standing Officers Council, created to strengthen the panel's function to check the core leadership.
The strategic panel, to comprise key figures of the leadership and several outside experts, will come up with a roadmap for the party to take power in the next general election, Okada said.