New Japanese PM unveils youthful cabinet

Defying expectations, Yoshihiko Noda bases his selections on unity building rather than political experience.

    Koichiro Gemba is one of several newly-appointed ministers in PM Yoshihiko Noda's young cabinet [Reuters]

    Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's new prime minister, has named a youthful cabinet lacking the usual political heavyweights, as he attempts to unite a divided party and safeguard a fragile post-quake recovery.

    Japan's sixth new leader in five years gave the key posts of foreign and finance ministers on Friday to two allies in their 40s, considered young in Japanese politics for such roles.

    The position of finance minister went to a relative unknown, Jun Azumi, 49, against expectations Noda would pick a veteran from his ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to wrestle with the world's biggest debt burden.

    Koichiro Gemba, 47, becomes foreign minister.

    Some party bosses, including Katsuya Okada, a former foreign minister, reportedly rejected Noda's offer of key posts, while analysts said his choices were aimed at appeasing factions rather than building on individual experience.

    Seijiro Takeshita, director of the securities and investment group Mizuho International, told Al Jazeera: "[Noda] is taking, what I would call, the middle road type of policy, which basically satisfies everybody and in that sense, I think he's done the right thing."

    The new cabinet, unveiled by Osamu Fujimura, the new chief cabinet secretary, was expected to be sworn in by Emperor Akihito later on Friday.

    "The appointments were aimed at achieving party unity," Fujimura told a press conference, adding that the new government's priorities were recovery from the March disasters, resolution of the nuclear crisis and fiscal reform.

    Noda has pledged to be a peacemaker in the ruling centre-left DPJ, which is deeply split between supporters and foes of veteran powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, indicted in a political funding scandal.

    In doing so, he is hoping to regain momentum lost since the DPJ ended half a century of conservative rule with their 2009 poll win, and help drive forward recovery from the earthquake and tsunami that left over 20,000 dead or missing.

    Azumi, from the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi that was devastated by the disasters, was a reporter for the state broadcaster NHK before entering politics.

    Ballooning public debt

    Seen as having strong ties with the opposition, he faces tough tasks in shielding the economy from a yen hovering near postwar highs and addressing a ballooning public debt as an ageing population increases social security costs.

    "Azumi is likely to follow Noda's financial policy and to be controlled by finance ministry bureaucrats," said Tetsuro Kato, professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

    "Because he is from the disaster-hit region, Noda wants him to take the lead in securing a budget for reconstruction."

    Gemba, the new foreign minister, was state minister in charge of national strategy in the outgoing cabinet. Japanese diplomacy was heavily tested last year by territorial disputes with China and Russia.

    He will also have to maintain relations with the US, Japan's key ally, against a backdrop of protracted discussions over the relocation of a US military base on the southern island of Okinawa.

    Yoshio Hachiro, 63, was named minister of economy, trade and industry.

    Motohisa Furukawa, 45, assumed the post of national strategy minister and also minister for economic and fiscal policy.

    Goshi Hosono, 40, will continue overseeing the resolution of the Fukushima crisis as environment minister in charge of the nuclear power plant disaster.

    The cabinet features two women - Renho, 43, who goes by one name, and health minister Yoko Komiyama, a 62-year-old former NHK anchorwoman.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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