, TOKYO, June 8 – Japan\’s new Prime Minister Naoto Kan was due to assume power Tuesday, vowing to revitalise his party\’s centre-left rule and tackle challenges from a stagnant economy to strained US relations.
Kan, Japan\’s fifth premier in four years, was to announce his cabinet line-up, address the nation in a press conference, and then head to the palace of Emperor Akihito to be formally sworn in along with his ministers.
The new leader was expected to keep 11 out of 17 ministers in their posts, including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.
The former finance minister was set to name his former deputy, fiscal hawk Yoshihiko Noda, to head the finance ministry as pressure mounts to revive the economy and slash public debt which is nearly twice the country\’s GDP.
Kan, a one-time leftist activist popular for his plain-speaking style, was riding an early wave of support, with approval rates above 60 percent, after pledging to clean house in his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
With weeks to go until upper house elections, Kan has reshuffled the party leadership to sideline DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, dubbed the "Shadow Shogun", whose money scandals have damaged the party\’s credibility.
Kan replaces Yukio Hatoyama, who last week stepped down, tearfully apologising for his own political funding irregularities and badly mishandling a row over a US marine airbase on the southern island of Okinawa.
Hatoyama bowed out after giving in to Washington and reneging on an election pledge to move the unpopular base off Okinawa, having strained ties with Japan\’s bedrock post-war ally for months.
Kan, in a weekend talk with US President Barack Obama, started to rebuild the frayed relationship, pledging to abide by an agreement to build a new US base on Okinawa.
Relations are likely to be smoother under Kan, said top Obama aide Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council\’s director for Asian affairs.
"I have every reason to expect that Mr. Kan will pick up where the cabinet has left off in the last two months and that we won\’t find ourselves back in some of the difficult times we had last September and October," Bader said.
Kan is likely to make his international debut at G8 and G20 summit meetings in Canada at the end of the month.
The new prime minister started his political life as a citizens\’ activist for environmental, pacifist and feminist causes, and does not hail from a political dynasty — unlike many of his predecessors.
Newspaper editorials have praised his humble beginnings as the "son of a salaryman" and drawn a contrast with the privileged backgrounds of recent premiers such as Hatoyama, the millionaire-grandson of a prime minister.
After a party meeting in the morning, Kan was expected to announce the cabinet at 0415 GMT, then see ministers one by one before gathering them for his first cabinet meeting and then giving an 0800 GMT press conference.
In keeping with Japanese tradition, the ministers were in the evening due at the emperor\’s moated palace in central Tokyo, the men dressed in formal black morning coats and tails, to be ceremonially sworn in.