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News Analysis: Japan's new PM tries to unify DPJ, but massive obstacles remain

(Xinhua)

09:49, August 31, 2011

TOKYO, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- Japan's parliament on Tuesday voted Yoshihiko Noda in the country's new premiership following his victory in presidential race of the Democratic Party of Japan on Monday.

The 54-year old former finance minister must rush into measures to bridge gaps among warring factions within the ruling DPJ, policies for reconstruction programs on the earthquake and tsunami- hit eastern seaboard, and craft an additional large-scale supplementary budget, while wooing major opposition parties which control the upper house in Japan's bicameral parliament.

NEW DPJ POWER BASE

Deflationary malaise, a strong yen and public debts amounting to over twice the size of Japan's gross domestic product, have also been passed down to Noda, a widely-known fiscal hawk. Noda needs the right team and allies in his own party, before he can contemplate making any headway.

Analysts believe such preconditions are just what his own power base may be lacking, which will in turn do harm to his government' s ability to address a number of urgent economic and social issues.

"He doesn't have much of a strong power base of his own and his election was essentially a compromise between two camps within his own party. So I think his premiership is launched from a position of weakness, expectations are low and I guess over the last five years, Japanese people have learnt not to expect too much from leadership change at the top," Dr. Jeff Kingston, Director Asian Studies, Temple University Japan, said in a recent radio program on the matter.

Noda has set about Tuesday aligning himself with key party players in an effort to curb the DPJ's infighting, which on a number of occasions has threatened to split the party and derail effective governance.

The power base that Noda is essentially dealing with are to do with both supporters and opponents of Ozawa, DPJ's notorious power broker.

Prior to forming his new cabinet by Friday, or possibly next Monday at the latest, Noda has tapped Azuma Koshiishi, a senior lawmaker of the DPJ, to be the ruling party's secretary general.

Koshiishi, is currently leader of the caucus of DPJ legislators in the House of Councilors, and is known to have close ties with Ozawa, the "shadow shogun" of politics for his shady, wheeler- dealer style of back room dealings.

Appointing Koshiishi, despite not receiving his or Ozawa's backing in the presidential election, is a clear indication that Noda will either want to be another of Ozawa's political puppet, or is serious about mending fences to boost party unity, by not trying to further squeeze out the irrepressible Ozawa, who wholes sway over the DPJ's biggest intraparty group.

Koshiishi, himself a heavyweight politician, told the media Tuesday that after a period of long and careful consideration, that he will also make his utmost effort to restore harmony within a party previously on the brink of imploding.

In balancing the party political equation, Noda has also tapped former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who ran against Noda in the presidential election, only to share his own power base with Noda to guarantee Noda's success over the Ozawa-backed trade minister Banri Kaieda, to become the DPJ's policy chief

But as Noda scrambles to put together a team with a semblance of cohesion that evidently lacked in former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's era, some political analysts claim that all the cajoling and assurances that must have and will need to be made to get differing intraparty factions and individuals to play ball, or even the same game, may be at the cost of diluting Noda's key fiscal reform agenda.

A FROSTY RECEPTION

The head of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Sadakazu Tanigaki, has gone on the record as saying that he was ready to work with the new DPJ leader on a third extra budget to finance reconstruction efforts and has said of Noda that he is "a man who thinks first before acting," in an apparent slight to Kan who was known to say and do things that were not representative of his party's stance, only to backtrack later, much to the chagrin of his own people and his opponents.

But while Tanigaki may personally favor Kan over his predecessor, the LDP on Tuesday still called for the new prime minister to Noda to dissolve the House of Representatives as soon as possible and seek a popular mandate in a general election.

Speaking at a meeting of LDP's lawmakers and representatives of the party's local chapters, prior to attending a lower house plenary session at which Noda was elected to succeed Kan, the LDP chief suggested the power change in the ruling party was illegitimate and had come too late, being that Kan first mentioned his intention of resigning three months ago.

As for Noda's idea of forming a grand coalition with the LDP to more effectively tackle the nation's mounting problems met opposition of many LDP representatives as the parliament is divided and the opposition bloc control the upper house.

Whirrs the LDP itself, to an extent, does not ardently oppose Noda's ideas for a tax hike to combat Japan's deficit-plagued finances and make provisions for reconstruction projects in the country's northeast, smaller opposition parties that could prove a thorn in Noda's side, including the Social Democratic Party, New Komeito, Japanese Communist Party, and Your Party, who have voice opposition to the proposed raising of taxes.

PUBLIC SUPPORT

In a nationwide opinion poll by the popular daily Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper published on Monday, only 9 percent of voters favored Noda for the top DPJ post, versus 12 percent for Kaieda, and 48 percent for Seiji Maehara.

Noda will certainly have to lift his profile in the public's eyes, as both Kan and Kan's predecessor Yukio Hatoyama saw public support fall below 20 percent.

The longevity of Noda, DPJ's third prime minister since the party was in power for just two years, hanged in the balance amid eroding public faith in DPJ that has failed to live up to its 2009 election promises, flip-flopped over diplomatic issues and seen its senior ministers, including two prime ministers, embroiled in a set of high-profile political funding scandals.

The DPJ's support rates lag behind those of its main rival LDP and if Noda fails, his party will almost certainly lose the next general election, which is set to be held by late 2013.

"I think that the Japanese public, they're fed up with Japanese politicians, they have not risen to the moment in dealing with the recovery from the tsunami that pulverized villages, all along the coastline of Tohoku," Kingston said.

"They have not risen to the moment in dealing with the nuclear crisis, it's been too little too late and party politics have trumped the national interest, people I think have come to the realization that changing the premier isn't going to make a major difference," Kingston added.

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