Tokyo: Japan’s new Prime Minister Naoto Kan, riding high on opinion poll ratings above 60%, pledged a fresh start Monday on the eve of the formal inauguration of his centre-left government.
Kan — who was voted in by parliament Friday and formally takes power Tuesday after his cabinet’s inauguration by Emperor Akihito — reshuffled the leadership of his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) on Monday.
Former finance minister Kan sidelined a scandal-mired veteran party powerbroker dubbed the “Shadow Shogun” to signal a change from the outgoing leadership ahead of crucial upper house elections next month.
DPJ lawmakers backed the departure of party secretary general Ichiro Ozawa, who reluctantly stood down last week along with premier Yukio Hatoyama as both men had been embroiled in damaging political funds scandals.
“We are going to relaunch and continue prime minister Hatoyama’s vision,” Kan told lawmakers. “To create stable government, we must not lose the upper house election. I would like all party members to unite and achieve victory.”
Party lawmakers rose and chanted: “We will fight! We will fight!”
Kan — a one-time leftist activist who served as finance minister and deputy premier under Hatoyama -- has enjoyed a honeymoon so far, with support ratings above 60 percent compared to less than 20% for his predecessor.
Newspaper editorials have been upbeat about the “son of a salaryman” and contrasted his family roots with the privileged backgrounds of recent premiers such as Hatoyama, the millionaire grandson of a prime minister.
When Kan names his cabinet line-up Tuesday, many key cabinet members are expected to stay in their current posts, including foreign minister Katsuya Okada, defence minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Transport Minister Seiji Maehara.
Kan is expected to name his former deputy, 52-year-old fiscal hawk Yoshihiko Noda, to head the finance ministry as pressure mounts to revive the world’s number two economy and slash mounting public debt.
Hatoyama’s resignation came after he backtracked on an election promise to move a US airbase off Okinawa island, caving in to Washington but angering locals as well as the pacifist Social Democrats, who quit his coalition.
Kan, in a weekend phone call with US President Barack Obama, sought to repair the damage in the relationship between the bedrock allies who this year mark the 50th anniversary of their security treaty.
Obama and Kan shared “the conviction that the partnership and close ties between the United States and Japan greatly benefit the citizens of both nations and contribute significantly to stability and prosperity throughout the world,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
Kan, who in the 1970s campaigned for environmental, pacifist and feminist causes, told Obama: “I recognise common points between the president’s activities as a community activist in the past and my political career based on citizens’ activities.”
The two leaders agreed to follow the accord reached by the Hatoyama cabinet on the relocation of the US base on Okinawa, despite the opposition of many islanders.
On the domestic front, Kan has moved to distance himself from Ozawa, who regarded by many as the puppetmaster behind Hatoyama and an electoral liability for his reputation as an old-school backroom fixer.
The veteran politician, who opposed Kan’s nomination and did not show up for the party vote Monday, was replaced as the DPJ’s number two by one of his his most bitter critics, former party policy chief Yukio Edano, 46.
Voter support for Kan surged to 66.7%, according to an opinion poll by TV network Tokyo Broadcasting System.
“The recovery in support is good news for Kan and DPJ candidates running for the upper house election,” said Tetsuro Kato, politics professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “But pending issues have yet to be resolved — notably the US base issue. The new cabinet still faces uncertainties.”