Kan hopes new team can ride popularity

Hatoyama, Ozawa exits boost support but some faces remain

Kyodo News

Prime Minister Naoto Kan formed his Cabinet on Tuesday, hoping the Democratic Party of Japan can capitalize on his newfound public support before next month’s Upper House election and forestall a period of political instability.

Kan’s emergence following the abrupt resignation last week of Yukio Hatoyama has snapped the declining popularity of the DPJ, which ended more than half a century of almost unbroken Liberal Democratic Party rule with a historic landslide victory in last August’s Lower House election only to see its public support continue to slide for as long as Hatoyama stayed in power.

But Kan, 63, has retained 11 of the 17 Hatoyama Cabinet picks and thus it is not clear if his administration will appeal to voters who once had high expectations of the DPJ, only to become disenchanted with Hatoyama’s indecisiveness and broken promises.

Carry-overs from the previous Cabinet include Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and transport minister Seiji Maehara, who all had a hand in the contentious effort to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

Hatoyama pledged to voters last August he would try to move the base out of the prefecture but ultimately failed and stepped down last week after about eight months in office.

Kan was deputy prime minister and finance minister under Hatoyama.

While some ministers will continue to hold key posts, their titles will change, including Yoshito Sengoku, who was state minister in charge of formulating national strategy and is now the chief Cabinet secretary.

Kan, elected prime minister by the Diet last Friday after being voted in as DPJ president, held a meeting that afternoon with Shizuka Kamei, head of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), and confirmed the two will remain coalition partners.

Opinion polls following Hatoyama’s exit have shown that more than 50 percent of voters have high hopes for Kan, the fifth prime minister since 2006. Hatoyama’s popularity was languishing around 20 percent at the end.

The quick recovery in popularity may be in part due to Kan’s being the first prime minister in 14 years who was not born into a blue-blooded political family, like his four immediate short-lived predecessors.

Despite the leadership change, the two-party coalition government faces the same host of challenges: an economy still trying to claw itself out of a two-decade slump and a graying society with a stagnant birthrate.

Sengoku said Kan selected Cabinet members based on his ambition to make Japanese politics more professional and clean.

“This Cabinet is youthful, fresh and formed by people who love to work,” Sengoku said at a news conference after releasing the lineup.

Of Kan’s 17 ministers, eight are in their 40s or 50s.

Among new faces, Kan promoted Senior Vice Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda to finance minister and Masahiko Yamada, a senior vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, to farm minister, replacing Hirotaka Akamatsu, who drew fire in the end for failing to contain the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that devastated Miyazaki Prefecture’s livestock industry.

Upper House lawmaker Renho, who goes by her first name only, was made minister in charge of government revitalization, while Koichiro Genba, who heads the DPJ policy research council, was named state minister for civil service reform.

Genba is also responsible for three other areas — the declining birthrate, gender equality and public services.

Satoshi Arai became minister in charge of national strategy, economic and fiscal policy and consumer affairs.

Kan’s Cabinet was to be formally inaugurated with an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace hosted by Emperor Akihito in the evening.

Prior to the ceremony, Kan was to hold an inaugural news conference at the prime minister’s office.

According to government sources, he plans to give his policy speech in the Diet on Friday.