TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese ruling Democratic Party powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, a critic of proposals to raise the sales tax to rein in huge public debt, is considering running against Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a party leadership contest next month, media said on Thursday.
Ozawa, who quit last year as party leader after a funding scandal, criticised Kan’s decision to float a possible doubling of the 5 percent sales tax ahead of a July upper house election that deprived the ruling bloc of a majority in the chamber, forcing it to seek opposition support to enact bills.
The party leader will become prime minister by virtue of its majority in parliament’s more powerful lower house.
Ozawa, 68, attended a gathering on Thursday of lawmakers allied with former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, but made no comment when asked by reporters if he would run in a party vote set for September 14.
“Let’s live up to the public’s expectations by working hard and cooperating with each other,” he told the gathering.
Ozawa would assess his potential backing in the party election at the meeting, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media had reported.
Kan took over as Japan’s fifth prime minister in three years in June after Hatoyama resigned in the face of plummetting ratings. Ozawa quit as the party’s No.2 at the same time.
Ozawa’s political skills were credited by many with helping propel the Democrats to power in a historic general election win last year, but opinion polls show that a majority of voters are put off by his image as an old-style wheeler dealer.
A judicial panel made up of ordinary citizens is expected to rule in the coming months on whether Ozawa must face charges over a funding scandal, a factor that could make it hard for him to win backing.
Speculation is simmering that Ozawa will back a proxy candidate, such as Banri Kaieda, 61, a former economic commentator who is also less aggressive on fiscal reform than Kan.
Reporting by Linda Sieg and Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Michael Watson