Japan's New Prime Minister

Staying in Power for the Long Haul

On Monday, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) selected Yoshihiko Noda as its next president. Noda will replace the embattled Naoto Kan, who resigned last Friday, as Japan's prime minister. He is assuming the post at what is arguably the most difficult time in Japan's postwar history. It is an open question whether he will be able to lead.

Noda, 54, emerged this summer from a crowded field of five DPJ candidates. The campaign leading up to the presidential election, which would usually have taken a week or more, was compressed into a few days by Kan's resignation and the impending end to the regular Diet session. Prior to the voting, there was little time for a policy debate and none for outreach to the Japanese public. The two televised debates among the candidates produced a bland rehash of internal party business that highlighted the personal rivalries that have handicapped the DPJ since it took power.

One prominent question, for example, was the role of Ichiro Ozawa, the former DPJ party leader under criminal investigation for campaign financing malfeasance. Ozawa was barred from holding party positions while under indictment, but he still has many supporters, including some 120 party members, who Kan's successor would need to win over to lead the country.

A second focal point was the recently negotiated agreement between the DPJ and its fiercest political rivals over the legislative process. The agreement reached after much haggling between the DPJ and two opposition parties broke Japan's legislative logjam. The opposition agreed to allow the passage of a post-earthquake reconstruction budget and a bill on developing renewable energy sources in return for the DPJ's abandonment of some social subsidies for families with children, high school tuition waivers, and lower highway tolls. These compromises angered many, and simmering resentments will continue to haunt the party.

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