Yoshihiko Noda, former finance minister for Naoto Kan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan, was backed by Japan's parliament on Monday to become the country's sixth prime minister in 5 years.
Mr. Noda, who has risen to the top with middle of the road policies and a style that has allowed him to avoid making enemies, is known for his fiscal conservatism, keen to ease the national debt crisis with a raise of national sales tax following the March 11 disasters.
Mr. Noda appears to be more confrontational when discussing Japan's foreign relations.
Earlier this month he reiterated his view that Japan's wartime leaders, convicted at the international tribunal at the end of World War II, weren't criminals. Mr. Noda has also been critical of Beijing's rise in military spending, which he has said "is stoking fears that China will disrupt the order within the region."
China's state run news agency Xinhua has already released a commentary in which it condemned "right wing politicians in Japan (who) have alway stired to distort that particular period of bloody and dark history of humanity...fueling hostilities between Chinese and Japanese."
Report; Yoshihiko Noda becomes Japan's new prime minister [BBC News, 30 August 2011]
Report & Analysis; Yoshihiko Noda Is Low-Key Politician With Hawkish Bent [WSJ, 30 August 2011]
Mr. Noda played down expectations of his leadership as he took office earlier this week. "With me in the office with these looks, I don't expect our approval rating to skyrocket," he said in a speech before Monday's vote by his party's lawmakers. In a pre-vote poll, he garnered just 9% support from the public—which has no say in the party contest—well behind former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who drew 48%.
However, Andrew Horvat, director of the Stanford Japan Center in Kyoto, suggests his low key demeanor may work to his advantage. "In Japanese tradition, the less lustrous politicians have tended to be more effective."
Yet, many would argue that no matter his character, the prime minister is in for a difficult time. "Difficult structural problems remain -- a divided party, hostile opposition parties that deprive the government of a majority in the upper house, and mountains of difficult and divisive problems facing the country," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano.
After former PM Naoto Kan resigned due to his handling of the March quake, Mr. Noda seems to understand that in order to last longer than his predecessors, he must begin to reach out. As finance chief, Mr Noda said he would like to consult opposition parties in order to pass economic bills to curb Japan's debt and post-earthquake reconstruction costs.
In another conciliatory move, Mr Noda appears ready to work with party strongman Ozawa's backers, who he has previously opposed. Azuma Koshiishi, an upper house lawmaker close to
Ozawa, has agreed to take on the key post of DPJ secretary-general, the
party's No.2 position.
Commentators say his appointment as former finance minister was timely in the current global crisis. "At a time when sovereign risks are rocking the global economy...it's not just a coincidence that Minister Noda, with his emphasis on fiscal consolidation, was elected," comments Hideo Kumano, an economist for Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.
Report; Japan elects new PM, may be ruling party's last chance [Reuters, 30 August 2011]