Democratic Party of Japan President and Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a civil-activist-turned-politician, is known for his sharp remarks in parliamentary debates.
He only assumed the party presidency in early June, following the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.
In the Hatoyama Cabinet, he served as finance minister among other ministerial posts. His preference for fiscal belt-tightening and raising the consumption tax led to charges that he succumbed to ministry bureaucrats, despite his party’s vow to put politicians in charge.
Kan paid dearly for advocating a tax increase during the Upper House election in July. His DPJ suffered a major defeat and lost a majority in the chamber it had held with its partner.
Kan, 63, is no political blue-blood, hailing from an ordinary family with no immediate ties to politicians. He is the first Japanese leader without such roots since Tomiichi Murayama, a Socialist who was prime minister from 1994 to 1996.
A graduate of Tokyo Institute of Technology and a certified patent attorney, Kan was a grassroots activist early on. He first got involved in politics in 1974, when he supported a female activist running for the Diet.
The native of Ube, Yamaguchi Prefecture, was first elected to the Lower House in 1980 from a tiny opposition party after running unsuccessfully in three national elections from 1976.
Kan joined the now-defunct New Party Sakigake in 1994 and became health minister in January 1996 under a ruling coalition that included the Liberal Democratic Party.
His fierce battle against bureaucrats as health minister over a scandal involving HIV-tainted blood products made him popular with the public.
Kan formed the previous DPJ in September 1996 with Hatoyama and others. After creating the current DPJ in April 1998, he served as the party’s first leader until September 1999.
He was elected party leader again in December 2002 but stepped down in May 2004 after coming under fire for failing to pay adequate public pension premiums.
As an opposition leader, Kan led the attack on lawmakers in the previous LDP-led government in parliamentary sessions. He was nicknamed “Irritable Kan” for his quick temper. Observers say he is a realist, not easily swayed by sentiment.
Kan is serving his 10th term in the Lower House, representing the Tokyo No. 18 district.
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