(Editor's note: Due to loss of electrical power stemming from Hurricane Irene, this report must be quite short. We apologize for any inconvenience.)
Voting to replace Naoto Kan as president of the Democratic Party of Japan, and prime minister, will begin in about one hour, in what is shaping up to be the most serious conflict inside the DPJ in recent memory. The top vote getter will likely be Trade Minister Banri Kaieda, but he will fall short of the 50% majority required to claim victory. That will force a runoff between the second-place finisher: either former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara or Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Stripped to its essentials, the battle pits legendary political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa against 'mainstream' forces in the DPJ who oppose Ozawa's machine-style approach to electoral politics. It's a battle neither side can afford to lose.
Ozawa's backing will likely enable Kaieda to win the first round, but Kaieda's perceived willingness to do Ozawa's bidding could hurt him severely in the second round. In two debates over the weekend, Kaieda made no effort to disguise his decision to align with Ozawa.
On Sunday night, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada and former Secretary General Yoshito Sengoku met and agreed that the Noda and Maehara forces should unite in the second round, regardless of which one winds up taking on Kaieda. Okada backs Noda, while Sengoku backs Maehara.
Normally that would likely be sufficient for the 'mainstream' candidate to win. But Ozawa, whose power inside the DPJ has considerably slipped, is pulling out all stops to push Kaieda over the top, and avoid a humiliating personal loss.
Both sides are fighting as if there is no tomorrow -- which there very well might not be for the DPJ in its current form, regardless of who emerges on top in today's voting.