Noda is Japan’s new prime minister, fills key DPJ posts


PRIMED AND READY — Democratic Party of Japan President Yoshihiko Noda meets with reporters at the DPJ’s headquarters in Tokyo on the evening of Aug. 30. Kyodo News photo

PRIMED AND READY — Democratic Party of Japan President Yoshihiko Noda meets with reporters at the DPJ’s headquarters in Tokyo on the evening of Aug. 30. Kyodo News photo

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Yoshihiko Noda was named Aug. 30 as Japan’s next prime minister, the sixth in five years, and he immediately set to work selecting key ruling party executives who he believes are best equipped to achieve his goals of reconstructing quake-ravaged areas and restoring the nation’s precarious fiscal health.

Finance Minister Noda, 54, who won the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election on Aug. 29, is now stepping up efforts to fashion his Cabinet later this week, after installing lawmakers who are critical of outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan to senior party jobs.

In an effort to head off a battle within the DPJ, Noda picked Azuma Koshiishi, leader of the caucus of its legislators in the opposition-controlled House of Councillors, for the party’s secretary general.

“I believe he has power to bring together all lawmakers, not only in the upper house,” Noda said, alluding to persisting concern over legislative gridlock.

The 75-year-old heavyweight, a loyalist of kingpin Ichiro Ozawa who did not back Noda in the election, told reporters that he had accepted the offer after deep consideration, and would strive to unite the DPJ.

“I’ll make every effort to restore harmony within the party,” Koshiishi said.

Noda tapped former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who also ran in the presidential election, as the DPJ’s policy chief. But that means Maehara will not be a Cabinet member, unlike the man he will replace, Koichiro Gemba, who in the Kan government was national strategy minister as well as DPJ policy chief.

“By respecting the thoughts of many people, I’ll draw up policies to move Japan forward,” Maehara, who is opposed to Ozawa’s way of deciding important policies behind the scenes, told reporters.

Noda, who will be the third-youngest prime minister in Japan’s postwar period, is considering appointing lawmakers who are distant from Ozawa, such as former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku or current DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada, as his successor in the post of finance minister, sources close to the matter said.

The premier-in-waiting also plans to retain Goshi Hosono as minister in charge of handling the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis and have him double as environment minister, they said.

Michihiko Kano, another contender in the presidential election, is expected to be reappointed as agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister or to secure a new portfolio in Noda’s Cabinet.

Noda is attempting to launch his Cabinet by Sept. 2, DPJ sources said. But there is still a possibility it will be formed Sept. 5.

The new DPJ leader selected Hirofumi Hirano, former chief Cabinet secretary, as the party’s Diet affairs chief. Hirano is an ally of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, a vocal critic along with Ozawa of Kan’s leadership.

After his triumph, Noda pledged to deepen ties between members of the DPJ, which has long been beset by internal divisions mainly between supporters and opponents of Ozawa, a political rival to Kan, a proponent of tax increases like Noda.

Noda is a supporter of tax hikes to combat Japan’s ballooning debt, currently twice the size of the country’s gross domestic product, and to finance the huge additional costs of the largest reconstruction work since the years after World War II.

Yet in pursuing his economic and fiscal policy goals, the incoming prime minister could find it difficult to deal with the current divided Diet, where opposition parties dominate the upper house, if he is unable to strengthen ruling party unity.

Noda was elected prime minister in parliament on Aug. 30, exactly two years after his party scored a historic win in the lower house election, allowing it to take the reins of government away from the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which had ruled Japan almost without interruption for over a half century.

Noda has taken the helm as the disaster-hit nation faces a myriad of challenges, including how to contain the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Kan and his Cabinet resigned Aug. 30 to pave the way for Noda to be elected as the next prime minister.

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