Centrist picked to lead Japan's troubled Socialists


TOKYO -- A 69-year-old political wheel horse narrowly fought off a challenge from the left yesterday for the right to lead the Socialists, Japan's main opposition party, through their worst crisis ever.

Makoto Tanabe, a centrist 30-year career politician little known outside Japan will face wrenching challenges if he is to save his party from internal division and dwindling voter support.

One of his first challenges will be a potentially disastrous stock market scandal.

The political dimensions of that scandal, in which brokerages "compensated" a few hundred clients for huge losses in last year's stock market crash, have not become clear.

But a critical question for the Socialists will be how to adopt a credible opposition stance and press the ruling Liberal Democrats for disclosures without embarrassing their own labor union allies, widely assumed to have been prime beneficiaries of the brokerages' paybacks.

A potentially deeper challenge will be to unite the party, which has been torn apart for two years over whether to take a more moderate stance in the hope of winning a share of real power for the first time.

Center-leftist Tetsu Ueda's unsuccessful challenge appealed to the party's more orthodox leftists.

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