Japan is to have a new leader on Friday, members of the governing party said, with Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Naoto Kan most likely to be elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s successor. Mr. Hatoyama resigned on Wednesday after a slide in his government’s approval ratings came as his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) prepared to contest elections in July.

The favourite in the race to replace Mr. Hatoyama is Kan, 63, a DPJ co—founder who served as party president when it was in the opposition.

The DPJ set Friday as the date it would make its choice for Mr. Hatoyama’s successor.

The Diet’s lower house would vote on the next premier the same day, party members told the media on Thursday. The DPJ’s vote is tantamount to picking a prime minister because the party has a majority in the lower house.

Fourth Prime Minister to quit

Mr. Hatoyama, Japan’s fourth prime minister in four years, resigned after eight months in office. His government’s approval rating had fallen from 72 per cent when it took office to 19 per cent in a weekend opinion poll. The plunge followed a decision by Mr. Hatoyama’s government to retreat from a campaign promise and allow a new and highly unpopular US military base to be located on Okinawa.

A growing number of DPJ members had called for Mr. Hatoyama to step aside. Some party leaders suggested that the DPJ would suffer a crushing defeat in next month’s elections for the Diet’s upper house if the situation went unchanged.

Mr. Kan came into politics from the civil liberties movement and made a name for himself in 1996 when, as health minister, he led a campaign to bring a scandal over HIV—tainted blood products to light.

However, several missteps, including revelations of an alleged affair and his failure to pay into the state’s pension scheme for 10 months in the late 1990s, damaged his career. His supporters praised his leadership qualities and said Mr. Kan would be a more decisive premier than Mr. Hatoyama. However, his detractors accused him of being uncritical of powerful DPJ party secretary Ichiro Ozawa.

Mr. Ozawa, who also resigned on Wednesday, is regarded as the DPJ’s puppet master and, like Mr. Hatoyama, involved in the kind of financial scandals that the DPJ had vowed to end. Foreign minister and Ozawa—critic Katsuya Okada said he would support Mr. Kan if the DPJ put an end to the “shadow shogun’s” influence. DPJ lawmaker Shinji Tarutoko also hinted that he was considering a run.

Major policy changes unlikely

A change in the DPJ’s leadership is unlikely to bring about major changes in Japan’s foreign or economic policies. The DPJ took power in September after a landslide victory that ousted the Liberal Democratic Party after more than a half—century of nearly uninterrupted rule.

The DPJ vowed to put people, not business, first and put an end to wasteful spending. Disappointment soon grew among voters over the lack of change and reform.

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