Kan Naoto, Japan’s Prime Minister, has been re-elected as party leader by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Kan won the ballot after being challenged by fellow party member Ozawa Ichiro.
Japan's Prime Minister Kan Naoto speaking to the press
It was a sigh of relief for Kan Naoto. With his re-election as DPJ’s party chairman, his position as party leader and Prime Minister is stronger than ever. The victory against his opponent Ozawa Ichiro was surprising, but Kan's clear victory was even more so. Kan scored 721 points against Ozawa’s 491.
However, the decisive voting has widened the split within the party. Kan has to not only unite his party again, but also his ruling coalition. His government is handicapped in its ability to push laws through the Diet, the Japanese parliament, after it lost its majority in the upper house in an electoral rout in July, a defeat blamed on Kan’s talk of raising taxes.
"Kan won by quite a big margin. But he still needs to come up with ways to pass legislation through parliament, such as by teaming up with an opposition party," said Koichi Haji, chief economist at NLI Research Institute. For that Kan may seek the help of his rival Ozawa, a former oppositional MP of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and still has tight connections to his old party.
Japan's economy recovers slowly
Kan, who became Japan’s leader in June, is the fifth Prime Minister in four years. For his political survival the 63-year-old has to cope with more than just his inner-party issues. Japan has been struggling with a large debt burden, deflation, an ageing population and a surging yen, which has hurt exporters. As the gap between the rich and poor widens, the country has been struggling with sovereign debts as high as 200 per cent of gross domestic product – the highest in the developing world.
Not a typical Japanese politician
Kan, whose background is in the civil rights movement, is not a typical product of the Japanese political party machine. Experts believe this could work to his advantage. He does not come from a long lasting and wealthy political dynasty as it used to be with all the former Japanese Prime Ministers. Unlike his predecessors he has not been tainted with bribery or other scandals.
The son of a middle-class salary-man personifies a new kind of Japanese politician. He stands for a new political style within Japan. For many Japanese he is the perfect contrast for the opposition. Kan knows he has to ensure broad support among his party members and the people in order to push forward reforms.
Author: Chi Viet Giang
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan