Japan’s ruling party selected a fresh leadership lineup on Monday, clearing the way for Prime Minister-elect Naoto Kan to name a new Cabinet and begin tackling a host of delicate issues left over after the abrupt resignation of his predecessor.
Mr. Kan was elected Prime Minister in a parliamentary vote last week and will begin his tenure with a roster of new faces in the top party positions. But he was expected to retain most of the Cabinet of outgoing leader Yukio Hatoyama.
Official swearing-in on Tuesday
Mr. Hayatoma stepped down last week after failing to keep a campaign promise to move a U.S. military base off the southern island of Okinawa. The move was sudden but "not completely unexpected" with crucial elections in the upper house of parliament scheduled for next month, many in the party felt his plunging popularity would make him a major liability at the polls. Mr. Kan was to name his Cabinet and be formally sworn in by Emperor Akihito in a ceremony on Tuesday.
The biggest change in Mr. Kan’s administration will be Yukio Edano, who served as Reform Minister and will take over as the ruling Democratic Party’s secretary general. That post was previously held by the powerful but unpopular Ichiro Ozawa, who also announced his resignation last week, over a funding scandal. Mr. Ozawa has high disapproval ratings among the public, and he too, was seen as baggage going into the elections.
Named to the party’s other senior posts were Koichiro Genba, who takes over as head of its policy formulation panel, and Shinji Tarutoko, a rising star who challenged Mr. Kan for the party’s top spot in the elections after Mr. Hatoyama resigned.
Media reports said Mr. Kan was likely to keep Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. The finance portfolio that Mr. Kan held in Mr. Hatoyama’s Cabinet was expected to go to Senior Vice Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Kan speaks to Obama
Mr. Kan on Sunday spoke by telephone with President Barack Obama and stressed the importance of his country’s alliance with Washington, while promising to implement an agreement to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a controversial U.S. Marine base.
Under an agreement signed last month between the two governments, the base is to be moved to a less-crowded part of Okinawa, but Mr. Kan faces intense opposition from island residents who want it moved off Okinawa completely, as Mr. Hatoyama had promised.
The relocation has already been stalled for years, but progress on the base is key to a larger plan to move 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2014.
The transfer from Fr. Hatoyama to Mr. Kan has given a much-needed boost to the Democrats, who have lost steam after sweeping to power just nine months ago by toppling the Liberal Democratic Party that governed Japan for most of the post-World War II era.
Known for speaking his mind
Unlike Mr. Hatoyama, whose grandfather was a Prime Minister, Mr. Kan comes from an ordinary family and got his political start in civic activism. He’s known for speaking his mind and gained popularity in the 1990s for exposing a government cover-up of HIV-tainted blood products.
Though he has not been free from scandal, a survey by the Mainichi newspaper found that 63 per cent of respondents expressed high hopes for Mr. Kan, while 37 per cent were pessimistic. Even so, the party still only garnered 28 per cent support up from 17 per cent in the previous survey in May.
The Mainichi survey, conducted through random telephone interviews of 981 voters, did not give a margin of error, but that sampling size would normally have a margin of about 5 percentage points.
Other media had similar results in polls over the weekend.