Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned over his broken campaign promise to move a US Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa. His resignation follows a disastrous slump in the government’s poll ratings ahead of upper house elections expected on July 11. Hatoyama came to office just nine months ago after the Democrats won national elections, defeating the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

In a country where governments are known to be fleeting, earlier this morning [Western Europe time], Japan’s lower house of parliament first voted in favor of making Naoto Kan the nation’s next prime minister. The upper house confirms his appointment thereafter. Mister Kan, 63, the new prime minister of Japan, is succeeding to Mister  Hatoyama. Naoto Kan’s appointment comes just nine months after the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ended the Liberal Democratic Party’s more than 50 years of almost unbroken control of government on a mandate to cut wasteful spending and increase household consumption.

Prime Minister Kan is Japan’s fifth leader since September 2006 and each of his predecessors resigned after Government’s public approval ratings slumped.

The New Mission

In his first public address after ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers elected him premier, Mister Kan said that he ”want[s] to convince the public that real reforms are entering the stage of concrete implementation. [He] want[s] to show the people that their confidence in the DPJ reflected in last year’s election wasn’t just a dream.” Kan, who was finance minister in the previous Cabinet, also said that he’s working on a new strategy to rein in the world’s largest public debt and safeguard economic growth ahead of mid-term elections next month. One thing is sure, he will pursue the main policy goals of Hatoyama, which included improved social welfare for an ageing population, reducing the power of bureaucrats and conducting a foreign policy that is less dependent on the U.S., which has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan.

Japan’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product is approaching 200 percent, the highest among developed nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“At least I’d like to correct the trend in which the public debt keeps increasingly endlessly,” Kan said yesterday. “We couldn’t cut waste in budget spending as speedily as we had expected.”  Moreover, the new Prime Minister pledged to honor an agreement announced last month by Hatoyama to relocate the Futenma Marine facility on Okinawa. That decision angered local residents who wanted him to meet a campaign promise to move the facility elsewhere. In a statement Friday, Kan described the relationship with the U.S. as vital, but also stressed the importance of Asian neighbors.

Japanese's Prime Minister, Mister Naoto Kan
Japanese's Prime Minister, Mister Naoto Kan

Kan, along with Hatoyama, was one of several members in 1996 to found what eventually became the Democratic Party of Japan.

“I grew up in a typical Japanese salaryman’s family,” Kan said Thursday. “I’ve had no special connections. If I can take on a major role starting from such an ordinary background, that would be a very positive thing for Japanese politics.”

He proved to be a quick study as finance minister after taking the job in January with little background in economics or fiscal policy. Some former skeptics, who had worried about his preference for spending, now express cautious optimism about his potential as prime minister.

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