Naoto Kan was voted in as prime minister by the Diet on Friday, shortly after the ruling Democratic Party of Japan elected him as its new president.
The change of leadership comes only two days after Kan’s predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, abruptly announced his resignation over his failure to resolve a dispute over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, and money scandals that have dogged his tenure.
Kan, 63, who has become the 94th prime minister, will take over an administration reeling from dwindling public support little over a month before an Upper House poll.
With the DPJ holding a comfortable majority in the Lower House, Kan’s election as national leader was all but expected. He received 313 votes in the lower chamber, and 123 in the Upper House.
Kan immediately started tapping lawmakers for his Cabinet and party executive posts. But Kan told DPJ Diet Affairs Chief Kenji Yamaoka that he intends to form a new Cabinet on Tuesday, instead of Friday as initially expected.
A full lineup of the new DPJ executives is expected to be decided Monday.
During a news conference Friday evening, his first as prime minister and DPJ president, Kan said he will spend the weekend “resting his mind and thinking” about who to appoint to the Cabinet and important party posts.
“I’d like to establish a stable system with the unity of the Cabinet and the full participation of party members in mind. And to do that, I’d like a little time,” he said.
Kan did not clarify whether he intended to ask now ex-DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa to continue managing the party’s election tactics, but said he would “take no sides” and appoint the right people for the right posts.
Names floated so far suggest Kan wants to reduce the influence of Ozawa on his administration by appointing people critical of the party kingpin and his policies.
It seems likely that Yoshito Sengoku, the national strategy minister under the Hatoyama administration, will be appointed chief Cabinet secretary, while Yukio Edano, who was minister in charge of the Administrative Reform Council, could be the party’s new secretary general, replacing Ozawa. But Edano’s appointment is reportedly facing opposition within the party.
And Yoshihiko Noda, who worked with Kan as deputy finance minister, has been tapped as the next finance minister in the new Cabinet.
Also on Friday, Kan huddled with Shizuka Kamei, head of the DPJ’s junior coalition partner Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), and agreed to maintain their alliance. The two also agreed to work to enact a bill to revise the postal privatization process during the current Diet session.
But with only two weeks remaining before the current session is scheduled to end and with many bills left on the shelf, it is becoming increasingly likely the session will be extended, which will effectively delay the Upper House poll.
During the DPJ presidential race earlier in the day, Kan vowed to rebuild his embattled party.
“My first priority will be to regain the public’s trust,” Kan said in a speech at a general meeting of all 423 ruling party lawmakers convened to elect their new president.
After thanking Hatoyama and Ozawa for their leadership in bringing about a historic regime change in last August’s Lower House election, Kan said that as prime minister, he would carry the torch passed on by Hatoyama.
Kan said these tasks would include the promotion of regional autonomy, establishment of a “new public service” system, formation of an East Asian community and efforts to curb global warming.
“I also believe our nation’s economic stagnation over the past 20 years wasn’t a natural phenomenon, but caused by mistakes in policies,” Kan said, vowing to work to revitalize the economy and the social security system.
Kan also said he would like to restart the DPJ Policy Research Council, which was abolished when the DPJ came to power last September, at Ozawa’s behest.
Finally, after the ballots had been counted and it became clear Kan had won the presidency with 291 votes, the new leader called for all DPJ lawmakers to unite to win the Upper House election.
In the DPJ race, Kan beat Shinji Tarutoko, a virtual unknown who chairs the Lower House Environment Committee. He received 129 votes out of a total of 420 valid ballots cast.
Tarutoko, 50, had called for a generational change in politics, and stressed the importance of solidarity among DPJ lawmakers “to overcome the difficulties” the nation is currently facing.
Kokumin Shinto’s Kamei told reporters he believed “a good prime minister was born.”
“In a sense, Prime Minister Kan is a man who made his way up from the very bottom,” Kamei said. “He places great importance on caring for the common people — I’m not worried at all” about his leadership abilities, he said.
Unlike Hatoyama, who was born into one of the most prestigious political families in the nation, Kan is a nonhereditary politician who used to be active in citizens’ groups before being elected to the Lower House for the first time in 1980.
On Cabinet picks, Yoshimitsu Takashima, the DPJ’s senior vice secretary general, expressed hope that Kan selects members who demonstrate a united party.
“This shouldn’t be about pro-Ozawa or anti-Ozawa (camps),” Takashima said, referring to his party’s divide over the kingpin dubbed the “shadow shogun” for his backroom influence.
Takashima said he hadn’t spoken with Kan on specific appointments, but expressed confidence the new prime minister will not grant Cabinet seats merely to reward those close to him.
DPJ Upper House member Renho, who was rumored to be a strong candidate for a Cabinet position, did not comment on the possibility of becoming part of the team.
“We need to support (the new administration) with all our efforts,” she said.
On Friday morning, Hatoyama and his Cabinet resigned en masse to make way for the new administration. Hatoyama chose not to hold a farewell news conference but apologized for his abrupt resignation in a statement released to the press.
“We materialized vows made to the public, such as the new child allowance, tuition-free high schools and providing new subsidies for farmers,” Hatoyama said.
But he acknowledged his failure to deliver on some pledges during his stint, saying, “I truly regret that promises made to the public could not be carried out.”
According to now ex-Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, Hatoyama urged his Cabinet in their last meeting to pursue “clean” politics and continue efforts as lawmakers to alleviate Okinawa’s burden in hosting U.S. bases.
“Expectations were extremely high, and we were required to provide results in a short span of time,” Hirano said, suggesting that, under the difficult circumstances, the different parts of government may not have been working in sync.
Hirano, who played a key role in the failed negotiations to relocate the Futenma air base outside of Okinawa, said he felt responsible for Hatoyama’s resignation, adding, “But it was an honor to serve the prime minister.”
Hatoyama was prime minister 262 days, the fifth-shortest administration under the current Constitution.
LDP sees no change
Opposition parties appeared determined Friday to stand squarely against the new government soon to be formed by Naoto Kan, with the main force calling his election as Democratic Party of Japan president just changing the DPJ “book cover.”
“It’s an old tactic,” Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki said, adding that Kan bears joint responsibility as deputy prime minister and finance minister for the “failed” governance under the administration of his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.
“Mr. Kan was in a responsible position in the Hatoyama Cabinet, which abandoned the government, so he is questionable in the eyes of the public,” Tanigaki said at LDP headquarters.
“The fact that the question of whether one is pro- or anti-Ozawa is a focal point goes to show this party’s attribute,” he said, referring to the division within the DPJ between lawmakers supporting now ex-Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa and those critical of him.
New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said Kan will be called to account over whether he is aware of his responsibility as the No. 2 member in the Hatoyama Cabinet.
Japanese Communist Party Secretary General Tadayoshi Ichida also slammed the DPJ. “Arguing that they have been cleansed of their sin by changing the book cover will not be accepted,” he said. “Hatoyama’s departure after being encircled by public criticism is a problem for the DPJ as a whole.”
New Renaissance Party leader Yoichi Masuzoe, who quit the LDP in April, said that while Kan’s election may help revive public support for the DPJ to some extent, “voters will not easily be duped.”