Naoto Kan to be Japan’s New Prime Minister

Japan’s ruling party picked grass-roots populist Naoto Kan as its new chief Friday, paving his way to replace political blueblood Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister while the party struggles to reclaim public support ahead of July elections.

“My task is to rebuild this nation,” Kan said, stressing the need to spur economic growth and confront problems linking “money and politics.”

Kan, 63, was finance minister under the unpopular Hatoyama, who stepped down Wednesday amid plunging approval ratings over broken campaign promises and a political funding scandal. Because the Democratic Party of Japan controls the more powerful lower house of parliament, Kan was virtually certain to be chosen as prime minister by lawmakers later in the day.

As prime minister, Kan will face daunting choices in how to lead the world’s second-largest economy, which is burdened with massive public debt, sluggish growth and an aging, shrinking population. He must also rally voter support ahead of upper house elections that are due next month.

“We will work together as one in the face of the tough political situation and the upcoming upper house election and fight together unified,” he said.

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