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Kan Elected Prime Minister; Says He Will Rebuild Japan
Source: japantoday.com
Source Date: Friday, June 04, 2010
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs
Country: Japan
Created: Jun 07, 2010

Naoto Kan, Democratic Party of Japan leader, was voted in as the country’s new prime minister Friday, with his cabinet to be launched early next week roughly one month out from an expected upper house election. Both upper and lower houses of parliament separately elected Kan as the new premier in a majority vote, replacing Yukio Hatoyama, who abruptly announced his resignation on Wednesday, only about eight months after sweeping to power. Kan, 63, who was deputy prime minister and finance minister in the Hatoyama cabinet, will take the helm at a time when the country is struggling with a two-decade-old economic slump and filled with public mistrust in politics.

“As a prime minister, I will rebuild this country,’’ Kan raised his voice when he expressed his determination in a speech following his victory in a DPJ presidential election. He called for unity within the ruling party, after winning by 291 to 129 votes over sole contender Shinji Tarutoko, a less well-known DPJ lower house member who called for ‘‘a generational change’’ in party leadership. Kan said, “Let’s all unite in fighting the current difficult political situation’’ in the run-up to the upper house election expected in July, where the party will try to achieve a substantial majority to avoid a policy deadlock.

Kan, the fifth prime minister since 2006, intends to launch a new cabinet on Tuesday, DPJ lawmakers said. Kan is planning to name Yoshito Sengoku, who was state minister in charge of designing national strategy, as the government’s top spokesman, according to a senior DPJ lawmaker. Kan agreed Friday with the DPJ’s small coalition partner, the People’s New Party, that the two will continue to form a government together. Kan, a co-founder of the DPJ, is Japan’s first prime minister in 14 years who was not born into a long-established political family, unlike many of his immediate predecessors, including Hatoyama and Taro Aso, whose grandfathers were also prime ministers.

The fact that Kan is not a hereditary politician will likely help increase his party’s popularity, as many voters are tired of seeing prime ministers who hail from elite families resigning one after another. But the leadership change is unlikely to lead to a major shift in Japan’s economic and foreign policies. Kan has said he will continue the unfinished work of Hatoyama, while doing his utmost to create an environment in which more DPJ lawmakers can get involved in formulating policies and to restore public confidence in the DPJ ahead of the House of Councillors election.

Attention is focused on to what extent Kan, an activist-turned politician, will be able to lessen the influence of Ichiro Ozawa, the outgoing DPJ secretary general, when he runs the government. One of the major reasons for the previous cabinet’s unpopularity was money scandals associated with Ozawa, regarded as the most powerful figure in the DPJ, who has decided to resign with Hatoyama.

Many of those who supported Tarutoko in the election are affiliated politically with Ozawa, who heads an interparty group of about 150 lawmakers, by far the biggest in the ruling party. The decision to pick Sengoku, who is known to be critical of Ozawa, as chief Cabinet secretary suggests that Kan is trying to create an image that the new government is distancing itself from the kingmaker.

Hatoyama and his entire cabinet stepped down together in the morning, ahead of the Diet’s vote on the new leader in the afternoon, after floundering in public opinion polls, caused by his mishandling of where to relocate a key U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture and money scandals. After the party race, Kan won 313 votes out of 477 in the more powerful lower house. Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki received 116 votes and the rest went to chiefs of smaller opposition parties. Officially, Kan will assume the premiership upon an appointment ceremony at the Imperial Palace, which is expected to take place Tuesday. Until then, Hatoyama will continue serving as premier by proxy.
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