Japan’s New Prime Minister Unveils Cabinet
Published: June 8, 2010
TOKYO — Japan’s new prime minister prepared to unveil a cabinet on Tuesday that would move his governing party closer to its agenda of domestic political change, and away from the financial scandals that dogged his predecessor.
Naoto Kan, 63, has been assembling his new administration since being elected prime minister by Parliament on Friday, following the abrupt resignation of Yukio Hatoyama. Mr. Kan is seeking to restore political momentum to his Democratic Party, which lost public support as Mr. Hatoyama seemed to squander a historic election mandate.
While Mr. Kan, a straight-spoken former civic activist, appears to be keeping almost the same lineup as the Hatoyama government, he has made changes to refocus the party on its signature effort to fix Japan’s unresponsive political system and end the country’s long malaise. The new cabinet will include some younger members who were active in the Hatoyama government’s efforts to shake up the stagnant postwar political order by reining in the nation’s powerful bureaucracy.But domestic media attention has so far focused on the omission of one face in particular, Ichiro Ozawa, the governing party’s shadowy powerbroker and its secretary general under Mr. Hatoyama.
A gifted political tactician, Mr. Ozawa is credited with engineering last summer’s landslide election victory, which ended a half-century of virtual one-party rule here. But his backroom deal-making became the focus of a series of financing scandals that undermined Mr. Hatoyama, who was also investigated for misreported political contributions from his own mother.
Since his election on Friday, Mr. Kan has reshuffled top party posts in an apparent effort to distance the party from Mr. Ozawa. He replaced Mr. Ozawa as secretary general, the party’s No. 2 post, with Yukio Edano, 46, a prominent fighter of bureaucracy in the Hatoyama government who has been a critic of Mr. Ozawa’s influence.
While Mr. Ozawa heads the largest faction in the party, with some 150 members, few of them appear to be included in the new party leadership or Mr. Kan’s incoming cabinet. Mr. Ozawa also appears to be keeping a low profile, though local media are speculating he may try to reassert his influence after parliamentary elections in early July.
In a news conference on Monday, Mr. Edano vowed to clean up the party’s image and make its operations more transparent.
“From today, we will no longer accept contributions from corporations and groups,” Mr. Edano said. “We must regain public trust in the Democratic Party.”
One unusual new face in Mr. Kan’s cabinet is Renho Murata, a 42-year-old half-Japanese, half-Taiwanese former television announcer who won attention last year when she grilled bureaucrats during an inquiry into wasteful spending. Ms. Murata, who usually goes by the single name Renho, will replace Mr. Edano as minister in charge of administrative reform, giving her a leading role in the Democrats’ pledge to shift power from elite bureaucrats to elected politicians.
There are early signs that Japan’s scandal-weary voters are warming to Mr. Kan. Over the weekend, public opinion polls by major newspapers found a larger than expected bounce for the Democrats’ approval ratings, which jumped from around 20 percent to the mid-30s since Mr. Kan took over.