DPJ picks Ohata as new secretary general after election setback

The Democratic Party of Japan approved the appointment Friday of acting president Akihiro Ohata as its new secretary general, succeeding Goshi Hosono, who is stepping down to take responsibility for the main opposition party's upper house election setback.

The party at its executive meeting also decided to suspend the membership of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan for three months -- a reduction from an earlier proposed expulsion -- for his support of an independent candidate in last Sunday's House of Councillors election in defiance of a party decision.

Following the election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc wrested control of the chamber from opposition parties, DPJ President Banri Kaieda made the proposals and won immediate approval from the party executive board, DPJ lawmakers said.

Kaieda initially proposed expelling the former leader from the party, but dropped the idea in the face of objections to such heavy punishment after Kan apologized.

Kan supported a candidate in the Tokyo constituency even after the DPJ, which initially planned to field two candidates there, withdrew its backing two days before official campaigning started, in view of the slim chance of securing two seats there. Neither candidate was elected.

The executive board also adopted a letter of protest against Yukio Hatoyama, another former prime minister during the period in which the party held power from 2009 to 2012, for his repeated remarks in favor of China on a bilateral row over a group of islands in the East China Sea. Hatoyama has already left the party.

"Such irresponsible remarks that will damage national interests are very regrettable," the letter said.

Hatoyama has said it was unavoidable for China to state that Japan had stolen the uninhabited islands, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, contradicting the Japanese government's stance that there is no dispute over the islets.