Factbox: Five facts about Japanese PM Naoto Kan

(BestGrowthStock) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan made fiscal reform, including a possible sales tax hike, central to his campaign for an election on Sunday in a gamble that voters would swallow the prospect of a higher tax burden to fund soaring social security costs.

But Japan’s government was dealt a stinging blow in the upper house poll, a reverse that could thwart its ambitions to curb the country’s massive public debt and threaten Kan’s job.

Following are five facts about Kan.

— Just a month ago Kan, then finance minister, took over from his unpopular predecessor Yukio Hatoyama and became Japan’s fifth prime minister in three years at a time when the country was struggling to rein in soaring debt, engineer sustainable growth in an aging society and manage ties with security ally the United States and a rising China.

— Having seen Greece’s debt problems turn into a European crisis, Kan became one of Japan’s most vocal advocates for the need to come up with a credible long-term fiscal reform plan. Kan is determined to avoid a debt crisis in Japan, often citing the Greek problems and markets’ concerns about Japan’s huge debt, which at nearly 200 percent of GDP is the highest among major economies. He is also touting a “third way” economic strategy that would use tax revenues to target growth areas such as healthcare and the environment.

— Kan is known both for sharp debating skills and a short temper, but has recently been somewhat on the defensive after his call to debate a possible doubling of the 5 percent sales tax put off voters. He has apologized for failing to fully clarify his stance on the sales tax, saying voters wrongly got the impression that the tax would be raised immediately, when he said such a hike would take at least two to three years. He has called for a multi-party debate on the issue for now.

— A vocal critic of the Bank of Japan when it was reluctant to ease monetary policy, Kan toned down his criticism after the central bank took several steps to boost the economy, but might turn up the heat quickly if the economy takes a turn for the worse. Kan is widely regarded by currency traders as favoring a weaker yen, and his recent comments have done nothing to change that impression.

— The 63-year-old veteran lawmaker, who founded the Democratic Party with Hatoyama more than a decade ago, shot to fame as health minister in the 1990s, when he battled bureaucrats and spearheaded a campaign to unveil the scandal over HIV-tainted blood products. Kan, the son of a businessman, with a passion for mahjong and an everyman image, began his career as a grassroots activist, campaigning for a prominent feminist lawmaker before seeking a seat in parliament. He lost three times before winning a seat for a small, leftist party.

(Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Factbox: Five facts about Japanese PM Naoto Kan