Yoshihiko Noda became the nation’s 62nd prime minister Tuesday, tasked with leading the recovery from the March disaster.
In the formal balloting in the Diet, Noda won 308 votes in the Lower House but failed to win a majority in the opposition-controlled Upper House in the first round.
During a runoff against Sadakazu Tanigaki, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Noda just barely managed to squeeze by, winning 110 votes against Tanigaki’s 107.
Noda, the sixth prime minister in five years, appointed key executives of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, whose presidential election he won Monday. He plans to name his Cabinet as early as Friday.
The party executive and ministerial appointments are key to whether Noda can reunite the DPJ, which has been split between supporters of indicted kingpin Ichiro Ozawa and the don’s foes.
“I will treasure each one of my fellow members so that the party as a whole can devote itself to actualize politics that care for everyone,” Noda told a party meeting in the afternoon.
As a show of unity, Noda appointed Azuma Koshiishi, chairman of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus and a close ally of Ozawa, to become party secretary general, the No. 2 post under Noda.
Koshiishi was initially reluctant to take the post but later accepted Noda’s overture after a one-on-one meeting.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, but I ultimately decided to accept it,” he said. He took the post “because of one reason only — to create party harmony.”
Noda also named former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, one of Noda’s opponents in the DPJ presidential race and also his ally, as chairman of the party’s policy research council. For the post of Diet affairs chief, Noda picked Hirofumi Hirano, a close aide to and chief Cabinet secretary for former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Maehara told reporters he will work to carry out Noda’s policies while trying to foster party unity. “I will take into account the views of various people,” he said.
Touching on Koshiishi’s appointment, Maehara said, “I think (he) is well suited for the job (as secretary general).”
What Noda calls his “party unity lineup,” however, may end up as a mixed bag that won’t satisfy anyone.
For example, Koshiishi’s appointment may rattle many DPJ ranks because he has stated that Ozawa’s party membership suspension, initiated after he was indicted over a political money scandal, should be lifted.
Even after being named the party’s No. 2 man, Koshiishi repeated his stance on Ozawa’s punishment, saying, “My view has not changed. . . . I believe that the party will hold internal discussions when the time comes.”
Noda is reportedly reluctant about lifting Ozawa’s party suspension.
Ozawa is still powerful. He has the support of about 120 allies, the largest group within the DPJ.
Noda meanwhile met with Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) head Shizuka Kamei and they agreed to continue their coalition partnership.
The two leaders signed an agreement to prioritize disaster-zone reconstruction and ending the nuclear crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant. They also agreed to keep intact Kamei’s pet goal of rolling back the privatization of Japan Post.
Naoto Kan’s Cabinet resigned en masse in the morning. But until Noda inaugurates his new Cabinet, Kan’s ministers will be in charge of crisis management, including dealing with any natural disasters should they occur.
Kan’s leadership lasted 15 turbulent months, longer than the four prime ministers who preceeded him from both the DPJ, when it shot to power in 2009, and the LDP, currently the largest opposition force.
He was forced to step down amid critically low support rates over his handling of the deadly March 11 tsunami and earthquake and was the target of criticism not only from the opposition camp but from some of his colleagues in the DPJ.
“I am very sorry that my Cabinet could not necessarily take sufficient measures,” Kan said in a written statement issued Tuesday. “I will leave it to the future generations to see how history will evaluate (my Cabinet), but all of the Cabinet ministers including myself have devoted ourselves wholeheartedly to the pressing issues at hand.”