Finance Minister Naoto Kan is set to become Japan’s new prime minister after winning a vote for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan Friday morning. The result was widely expected after Kan’s biggest potential rivals decided to back the former leader of the party on Thursday.
In the sudden race to become DPJ leader Kan played a perfect tactical game by carefully distancing himself from the DPJ’s ‘shadow shogun’ Ichiro Ozawa, who resigned as party general secretary Tuesday alongside outgoing Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. This helped Kan gain the support of anti-Ozawa groups within the party, while holding on to the support of many within the Ozawa faction, the largest grouping in the DPJ.
In a secret ballot of the DPJ’s 423 Diet members, Kan won 291 votes compared with his only rival, Shinji Tarutoko, who garnered 129. Tarutoko, an Ozawa-group member who chairs a lower house environmental committee, had called for a generational shift in the leadership of the party, but in his speech to the DPJ Diet members, he failed to build on this message as he instead talked in a melodramatic tone about turning the DPJ’s current difficulties into an opportunity.
Kan, however, looked very much the part of DPJ leader and prime minister-to-be as he calmly stressed the need for the party to win back the trust of the people and emphasized his credentials as one of the party’s founders.
Barring any freak developments, Kan will become prime minister Friday afternoon after a vote in the Diet itself.
Kan’s pressing task will be to save the DPJ from electoral disaster in next month’s upper house election. To this end he will need to quickly show that the party has rid itself of the money and politics scandals that surrounded Hatoyama and Ozawa, while changing the party’s current image of backpedalling on promises and policy incoherence.