Despite efforts by Ichiro Ozawa, the Democratic Party’s resident fixer, the party picked finance minister Yoshihiko Noda to become its new leader, essentially ensuring he becomes Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years on Tuesday. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Current prime minister Naoto Kan had announced his resignation Friday, following sharp criticism for his handling of the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami. Noda gained his victory in a run-off against trade minister Banri Kaieda who had been backed by Ozawa. Despite Ozawa’s efforts, Noda collected the support of Seiji Maehara’s faction in the second round of voting. Maehara, a former foreign minister, was the public’s favourite to take the prime ministership.
Observers say Ozawa had been backing Kaieda with his powerful faction within the ruling party, apparently in hopes of gaining a malleable prime minister who would use his position to get pending charges against Ozawa over tainted political contributions dismissed. The importance of Japanese intra-party factions – and their influence on leadership selection – should be well understood by South Africans.
More conservative than Kan, Noda’s agenda includes doubling the national sales tax to meet looming social security funding commitments and backing away from Kan’s pledge to end dependence on nuclear power for electricity. Unlike the more equivocal Kan, Noda is a strong supporter of the US-Japan security alliance, in response to the rising profile of Chinese military spending and its international security posture. Foreign analysts note a source of potential irritation from Noda’s victory. In the past, he has evinced sympathy for war criminals left over from World War II.
After winning, Noda told his party, “Let us sweat together for the sake of the people. This is my heartfelt wish”. With the Fukushima Daiichi reactor off-line, that may be exactly what people will have to do without enough power for air conditioning. DM
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