NEWSMAKER-Can Japan’s new leader Kan stay the course?

By Linda Sieg and Leika Kihara

TOKYO, June 8 (BestGrowthStock) – As soon as Naoto Kan was picked
to be Japan’s prime minister, “Yes We Kan” T-shirts went on
sale on the Internet.

Voters who have now seen their fifth leader take office in
just three years may, however, be wary of buying one without
proof that he will stay the course.

Kan’s common-man origins and talent for survival could give
him a better shot at political longevity than his predecessors,
whose elite pedigrees helped them rise to the top with little
need to develop skills in rough and tumble competition.

Kan, finance minister before taking on the top job, began
his career as an activist and campaigned for a prominent
feminist lawmaker before seeking a seat in parliament. He lost
three times before winning a seat for a small, leftist party.

“Since I belonged to a small party, I had to do everything
myself to make things move forward,” Kan told Democratic Party
(DPJ) lawmakers before being voted in as their new leader last
week following the resignation of unpopular Yukio Hatoyama.

Kan is also one of the few party leaders who did not get
his start in the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP),
which ruled Japan almost non-stop for more than half a century
before being ousted in last year’s general election.

The LDP fractured in 1993 when it briefly lost power,
spawning a string of opposition parties which coalesced in the
DPJ in 1996 under the leadership of Kan and Hatoyama.

The son of a businessman with a passion for mahjong and an
image as an ordinary guy, Kan may resonate with voters better
than wealthy leaders like Hatoyama, who insisted he was unaware
of receiving millions of yen in unreported funds from his
heiress mother.

“He didn’t come from a big rich family. He entered politics
as an ordinary person and in very small parties,” Democratic
Party heavyweight Hajime Ishii told Reuters.

“Sometimes he explodes,” Ishii said, referring to Kan’s
well-known short fuse. “But he is a man who fits an era of
challenge to vested interests.”

BUREAUCRAT BASHER TO FISCAL CONSERVATIVE

Kan made a deep impression on voters when, as health
minister in 1996, he battled bureaucrats to expose a scandal
over HIV-tainted blood products and apologised to the victims.

Many have detected a recent change in his attitude towards
bureaucrats, attributing his belief in the need to rein in
Japan’s huge public debt at least partly to the tutelage of
finance mandarins since he assumed the key portfolio in
January.

“In a sense, he has been transformed into a fiscal
reconstructionist and his ties with the ministry of finance may
be helping. He’s not the bureaucrat-basher he used to be,” said
Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University.

“Some call that a sell-out, but as prime minister, bashing
bureaucrats is not a good idea.”

Having seen Greece’s debt problem turn into a European
crisis, Kan — hardly an expert on economic matters — became
one of Japan’s most vocal cabinet members calling for the need
to come up with a credible long-term fiscal reform plan.

Analysts say he has the political clout and skill to muscle
through needed reforms. But Kan himself has been cautious of
being branded a fiscal hawk and while a fiery debater, has a
talent for nuanced remarks that make him hard to pin down.

A vocal critic of the central bank, the BOJ, when it was
reluctant to ease monetary policy, Kan toned down his criticism
after the central bank took several steps.

With the economy in relatively good shape, he is unlikely
to put pressure on the bank soon for further easing, but might
turn up the heat quickly if the economy takes a turn for the
worse.

Policy content aside, Kan may turn out to be the kind of
survivor Japan needs after a string of shortlived leaders.

Forced to step down as party leader in 2004 after
confessing that he had failed to pay some contributions into
the public pension system, Kan shaved his head, donned Buddhist
monk garb and made a pilgrimage to temples to atone for his
mistake.

Six years later, he finds himself at the pinnacle of
Japanese politics.

Stock Investing
(Editing by Ron Popeski)

NEWSMAKER-Can Japan’s new leader Kan stay the course?