Japan's new PM, cabinet to take power

Japan's new centre-left government is due to take power on Wednesday in a fresh start for Asia's top economy, which has been under conservative rule for almost all of the post-war era.

Hugging babies is not enough -- Yukio Hatoyama, who officially takes office as Japan's prime minister on Wednesday, wants to reverse the country's demographic crisis. (AFP Photo)

Yukio Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was to be voted in as prime minister two and a half weeks after his party's stunning election victory changed the country's political landscape.

"I'm thrilled with the joy of creating history, and at the same time I feel the very grave responsibility for creating history," Hatoyama told reporters in the morning as he came out of his house.

Defeated prime minister Taro Aso and his cabinet resigned en masse early Wednesday, paving the way for the launch of the new government. Aso was in office for less than a year amid sagging voter support.

Japan's usually risk-averse voters, tired with a stagnant political system and years of economic malaise, took a chance on Hatoyama's untested DPJ when they threw out Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on August 30.

"It will be the start of a new era," Hidekazu Kawai, political science professor emeritus of Gakushuin University, told AFP.

"But that is not to say the public is euphoric. Voters are very cool and keenly watching whether the DPJ can pull off their agenda. The people are dissatisfied with the LDP. They are also anxious about the DPJ."

The landmark change comes a year after the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered the global economic turmoil that hit Japan's export-led economy like few others and raised unemployment to a post-war high.

Hatoyama, a US-trained engineering scholar and scion of a political dynasty, has promised to make politics work for the people and to undo an "iron triangle" that existed between the LDP, big business and the state bureaucracy.

He has promised sweeping change, from boosting social welfare without raising taxes, to cutting greenhouse emissions and redefining Japan's place in the world by seeking closer ties with its Asian neighbourhood.

The start of his government "will be the dawn of Japan's new politics," Hatoyama told DPJ members on the eve of taking power.

Within days of taking office, Hatoyama will head to the United States to meet world leaders next week at the United Nations General Assembly, a climate change summit, and a G20 meeting in Pittsburgh on the world economy.

Having criticised "US-led globalism" and signalled plans to scale down some ties with the US military, Hatoyama will seek to assure President Barack Obama -- whose message of "change" he has echoed -- that Japan is a reliable partner.

Japan's Diet legislature was scheduled to open its special lower house session at 1:00 pm local time (0400 GMT) and to elect key posts including the speaker, with Hatoyama expected to be confirmed around 0530 GMT.

The upper house was to convene afterwards to confirm his appointment.

As new prime minister, Hatoyama is then expected to appoint his cabinet ministers, who traditionally accept their posts in visits to the premier's office, before the new leader addresses national media.

Hirohisa Fujii -- a 77-year-old former finance ministry bureaucrat who has railed against wasteful public spending -- said Wednesday he had accepted the job of finance minister, which he briefly held in the early 1990s.

Hatoyama has already said his foreign minister would be former party leader Katsuya Okada, 56, a one-time trade ministry technocrat known for his deep policy knowledge and strait-laced "Mr Clean" image.

Emperor Akihito was scheduled to welcome all the new legislators and hand them their Diet certificates at a palace ceremony in the evening.

Source: AFP

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