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Noda wins race to be Prime Minister

Date Posted: 2011-09-02

Yoshihiko Noda has a new job, battling through a runoff election to become president of the Democratic Party of Japan and the third DPJ politician to become Prime Minister since his party rolled to power in the 2009 general election.

The 54-year-old Noda bested Banri Kaida in a runoff election to become Naoto Kan’s successor and the seventh Japanese prime minister in the past six years. Noda was one of five candidates for the DPJ leadership slot as balloting began, but none won a majority in the first round, setting the stage for the two finalists. Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Farm Minister Michihiko Kano put their support behind Noda to make the difference. In the first round, the popular Maehara was third with 74 votes, Kano received 52 and former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi was last with 24 ballots.

Noda quickly promised to “abide in good faith with an agreement” his party had made with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and its partner, New Komeito. Noda can, by law, serve until September 2012. The LDP’s leader, Sadakazu Tanigaki, promised to cooperate with the new Prime Minister, but rejected Noda’s call for a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito. He’s also rejected LDP calls for new elections anytime soon.

The new Prime Minister has signaled he is in favor of restarting the nation’s nuclear reactors once they’ve gone through safety checks. Kan had staked out an anti-nuclear stance for Japan’s future during his final weeks in office as Prime Minister. Now,Noda says he will back new tax hikes to reduce the debt, while continuing to finance Japan’s welfare system. “I want to do a job that makes the public think it was good that there was a political power shift,” he said, talking about goals of dealing with not only the Fukushima nuclear issues, but also rebuilding the nation’s midsection following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. Noda says a big challenge will be reining in the strong yen and beefing up the economy.

Noda headed into the DPJ election with the support of outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who resigned last week after months of promising to step aside after his political ratings plummeted following the massive earthquake and tsunami. “Let’s stop taking sides,” Noda said following the election, adding “If the DPJ loses power and falls apart, it will just please the old regime. Should we allow it to get back into office?” Despite the comment, he’s promised to rebuild consensus both within the DPJ and with the opposition lawmakers.

Prime Minister Noda is expected to remain a supporter of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, which he describes as “essential for Japan’s security and prosperity.” Noda is viewed as an everyday-person, not having come from society’s elite. His father was a member of the Japanese Self Defense Force. A conservative, he’s served as Finance Minister for nearly 15 months, battling budgets and the strong yen, which only a few days ago hit a post-World War II high against the U.S. dollar.

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