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5 vie to become Japan's leader

TOKYO -- Five lawmakers officially declared their candidacies for the Democratic Party of Japan's presidential election Saturday, kicking off a two-day race to choose Naoto Kan's successor as party chief and prime minister.

At least two of the five talked of weaning the country off nuclear power, following the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant during recovery from the March tsunami.

The candidates are former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, 49; former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Sumio Mabuchi, 51; Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, 62; Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, 54; and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano, 69.

It is the largest number ever to vie for the presidency of the DPJ, promising a close battle. Voting by 398 party members of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors will take place Monday morning. Should none of the five win a majority, a runoff between the first- and second-place finishers will decide the party chief, who would be named prime minister.

Maehara and Noda belong to what is called the mainstream of the DPJ, which backed Kan's administration. Kaieda is from the non-mainstream side, while Kano and Mabuchi have described themselves as neutral.

Kaieda and Maehara both said Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear energy over time, after the crippled power plant spewed radiation into the water, air and food. Maehara, seen as the front-runner, said the country should stop building reactors and improve the safety of existing ones. Kaieda, head of the Trade Ministry that oversees nuclear policy, said Japan should increase its use of renewable energy.

A major issue is expected to be whether the candidates support Kan's moves to reduce the influence of party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa. A point of policy contention will be whether to raise taxes to fund reconstruction following the March earthquake.

The five lawmakers will also focus on whether the DPJ should maintain the policies pledged in the 2009 lower house election that brought the party to power.

With Bloomberg News

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