Japan's Finance Minister takes over as PM

     Japanese Finance Minister Naoto Kan will become his country's sixth prime minister in five years later today after being overwhelmingly elected as his party's leader to replace Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned on Wednesday. According to The Australian, Kan, 63, defeated the only other candidate, little-known Shinji Tarutoko, 291 to 129. "I just want to say to those who voted against me, we will now work collectively on our difficult political situation as we face the Upper House election," Kan was quoted as telling party delegates. Until now Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Kan was part of a nine-month-old government that suffered a dramatic collapse of public confidence ahead of the crucial election, expected on July 11. Derided for indecision and poor political judgment, Hatoyama, the richest man in the Diet, agreed to quit as on condition the Democratic Party of Japan's even more disliked secretary-general, Ichiro Ozawa also resigned. Kan, from the party's left, won over key right-wing ministers Seiji Maehara, Katsuya Okada and Yoshito Sengoku by undertaking to loosen the controversial Ozawa's grip on party machinery. A DPJ co-founder with Hatoyama, Kan entered national politics as a reformist left-winger. A tougher character, however, he will strive to drive the government out of the deep ruts created by Futenma and electoral funding scandals in the offices of Hatoyama and the party's former secretary-general and king-maker, Ichiro Ozawa. Kan will seek to refocus the party and the electorate's attention on DPJ policy priorities like breaking the decision-making power of the senior bureaucracy, reviving the domestic economy and boosting family welfare. Nicknamed Ira-Kan for his hot temper and open disdain of obstructive bureaucrats, Kan made a splash in 1996, when as health minister in a coalition government, he blew the whistle on his own officials' complicity in tainted blood scandal. However, he has had his own upsets, including failure to make compulsory pension payments which cost him DPJ leadership in 2004 and six years earlier when, as a married father of two, he was obliged to deny an affair with a television newscaster. Kan will be confirmed as prime minister in the Parliament this afternoon and will work on reshuffle of cabinet and party positions over the weekend.

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