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Asia-pacific

Hatoyama takes the helm as new centre-left PM

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Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-16

Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama (photo), took power on Wednesday after his centre-left Democratic Party of Japan unseated the ruling conservatives in August 30 legislative elections for the first time in close to 50 years.

AFP - Japan's new centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took power on Wednesday in a fresh start for Asia's top economy, which had been under conservative rule for almost all of the post-war era.
   
Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was voted in by parliament 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 earlier told reporters as he left his house in the morning.
   
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 the 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."
   
Defeated prime minister Taro Aso and his cabinet earlier resigned en masse.
   
"I did my best for the sake of Japan, in a very short period... but unfortunately, I am stepping down halfway through," said Aso, who took office about a year ago, only to see his approval ratings quickly slip.
   
The landmark political 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 hard and sent 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 pledged 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 neighbours.
   
Hatoyama told fellow lawmakers earlier Wednesday: "Today is a turning point in history. It's the day to drastically change the political and administrative structures. We will continue to act in unity, always looking to the people."
   
Within days of taking office, Hatoyama will head to the United States to meet world leaders next week at the UN 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.
   
Hatoyama was later expected to appoint his cabinet ministers, who traditionally accept their posts in visits to the premier's office.
   
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 at a palace ceremony in the evening.
 

Date created : 2009-09-16

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