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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Voters hope new chief is a better fit

But doubters expect change to be minimal

Staff writers

Voters were mixed Friday on whether Naoto Kan would be a better fit than his Democratic Party of Japan predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, as the nation's leader.

News photo
Man of the moment: Passersby near Umeda Station in Osaka stop to watch Naoto Kan being elected as the new head of the Democratic Party of Japan around noon Friday. KYODO PHOTO

As Kan was sworn in as DPJ president and later voted in by the Diet as prime minister, doubters wondered whether his emergence will make much difference in the country's governance.

"I have higher expectations of Kan because he seems more like an enthusiastic, proper politician, whereas Hatoyama was an 'alien,' " said Ayumi Sugihara, who works in the publishing industry. "I hope he can settle the issues Hatoyama left unresolved."

But Sugihara, 33, said she doubts Hatoyama's sudden exit was a smart move for the DPJ. "Maybe it was good that he resigned with (DPJ Secretary General Ichiro) Ozawa, but even without them the DPJ will not change fundamentally," she said.

However, she said she plans on supporting the DPJ again in next month's Upper House election. "I think the power shift from the Liberal Democratic Party to the DPJ is significant and meaningful. Besides, I'm curious to see more of the DPJ in power."

Yoshitatsu Yamai, 70, of Chiba Prefecture, said although he thinks Kan will make a better prime minister than Hatoyama, even the new leader will struggle with the overly idealistic campaign pledges the DPJ made before ousting the LDP from power last summer.

"I want the next prime minister to be more realistic about the party's policies," said Yamai, expressing concern about the government's spiraling debts. "We shouldn't pass the debts on to our children," he said, adding he will probably vote for Your Party, led by former LDP member Yoshimi Watanabe, in the House of Councilors poll.

Company employee Ozawa, 55, who did not give his first name, predicted nothing will change even with a new leader. "I personally don't like Kan because I still remember the scandal" over him having an affair, which was reported in 1999, Ozawa said. He said he plans to vote for one of the new parties in July's election.

Masako Mutsuga, a 67-year-old housewife, agreed. "I think the DPJ has no choice other than Kan," she said, adding that at least his wife seems a more steady person than Hatoyama's wife, Miyuki, who famously claimed she was abducted by aliens.

Although she said Kan does not look reliable, she intends to cast her vote for the DPJ again in the summer poll.

"(The DPJ's) popularity rate may recover (by changing leaders), but it does not mean more people will support them," said Makoto Yaguchi, a 59-year-old company employee working in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. He is thinking about voting for Your Party next month, he said.

"Hatoyama wasn't trustworthy. I wonder how reliable Kan will be?" he asked.

On the other hand, Yuko, a 27-year-old company employee who declined to reveal her last name, said she has a good impression of Kan, but thinks Hatoyama should have stayed on longer. "No politician can safely handle the issue of the U.S. Futenma base (in Okinawa)," she said. "But the disappointment felt over Hatoyama will remain with the DPJ. People expected a lot from the DPJ. They are now feeling betrayed."

Voters also expressed the view that the frequent changes of prime minister is detrimental to politics and the society.

"Can you believe we had 14 prime ministers in 20 years?" asked Shinjuku Ward's Yaguchi. "It's terrible. We shouldn't let it happen."

Company employee Yuko said she can understand how other countries criticize the situation. "Other countries will not trust Japan. I mean, imagine foreign government officials negotiating with Japan's prime minister, thinking, 'this guy will be replaced soon anyway,' " she said. "And I don't think a prime minister can perform well and achieve good results in such a short period of time."

Chiba's Yamai said things might be different if the voting system were altered. "If we choose a prime minister by referendum, I think the elected prime minister will stay in power longer, like for three or four years."

But no matter how many times the prime minister is replaced, housewife Mutsuga said the leader will remain a puppet. "The real power lies in the business circle," she said.

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The Japan Times

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