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New Japanese Prime Minister Takes Office Wednesday


A new political party is taking power in Japan on Wednesday. The Democratic Party of Japan defeated the Liberal Democrats in the general election last month, making party leader Yukio Hatoyama the first prime minister from outside the LDP in nearly 15 years.

Privileged Past

Yukio Hatoyama campaigned on a promise of change, but his personal story does not represent a break from Japan's political past. Like many previous Japanese prime ministers, Mr. Hatoyama comes from a wealthy family - and occupies a seat in the parliament once held by his father. His grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, served as prime minister in the 1950s.

Minoru Morita is a political analyst in Japan.

Morita says Mr. Hatoyama's personal story has been well documented in Japan. But that is about all most Japanese people know about their new leader.

Never expected to become prime minister

Mr. Hatoyama never expected to become prime minister. Unlike his brother Kunio who majored in political science in college, Yukio Hatoyama studied engineering at the University of Tokyo. He did advanced studies in the United States at Stanford University, and went on to become a professor. The brothers are heirs to the Bridgestone tire fortune.

Mr. Hatoyama later followed in his father's footsteps - taking over his parliament seat in Hokkaido.

But the man who becomes Japan's prime minister on Wednesday was not even in the political spotlight four months ago. Former DPJ head Ichiro Ozawa was seen as the next leader of Japan. A political financing scandal, however, forced Ozawa to resign as party chief, and Mr. Hatoyama stepped in.

Ozawa, however, recently took the post of party secretary general, which keeps him closely involved in party and government activities.

Administration change

Mr. Hatoyama's slogan - "Sei-ken koutai" or "administration change", helped the DPJ win 308 seats out of 480 in the lower house of parliament last month. That overwhelming victory swept the LDP from power for only the second time in more than 50 years.

Morita describes the new administration as the "pinch hitting" administration - a reference to a substitute batter in baseball. He says Mr. Ozawa is the real leader of the party and expects the newly appointed secretary-general to influence Mr. Hatoyama's policies. He says that is what will make this administration so unprecedented.

Mr. Hatoyama faces tough challenges in his new job.

Japan is recovering from its worst economic crisis since World War II, and unemployment remains high. The country's birth rate is among the lowest in the world, while its population is rapidly aging.

Mr. Hatoyama says he will tackle those issues in part by giving money back to the people. He plans to eliminate road tolls, increase the monthly childhood allowance, and give tax breaks to small and medium-sized companies.

Skepticism about PM's ambitious plan

Voters like Yuki Obayashi are skeptical about Mr. Hatoyama's ambitious plan.

She says she does not think he will be able to accomplish everything. If he can even get to two of his goals, she says she will consider it a success.

Mr. Hatoyama also faces skeptics abroad, including in the United States. During the campaign, the DPJ leader pledged to strengthen cooperation with Asian countries such as China, and seek a more independent policy approach from the U.S.

Days before his big win last month - he published an essay in American newspapers, criticizing what he called "U.S.-led globalization and market fundamentalism."

Questions about foreign policy

Members of his party have questioned whether Japan should help pay for the transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and oppose a plan to move a Marine Corps air station on Okinawa. Party members also want to end Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, which supports ships involved in U.S.-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Mr. Hatoyama has named DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada his foreign minister to tackle those issues.

Political analysts say Mr. Hatoyama will be under tremendous pressure to make good quickly on his promises, particularly about the economy.

With an Upper House election looming next year - he will have to act fast if he intends to keep the DPJ in power for more than a year.

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