Daily Israel Report

New PM Noda, the Farm Boy, Tries to Unify Party and Steer Japan

In a rebuff to 'kingmaker' Ichiro Ozawa, the Democratic Party of Japan has selected Hiyohiko Noda to be Japan's next prime minister.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/29/2011, 9:52 PM

Japan has a new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who up to now was the country's finance minister. That ministry has been responsible for providing many Japanese prime ministers.

Noda, unlike many of his predecessors, is not a member of the elite who attend either Tokyo or Kyoto University, but comes from a poor farming family.

He has compared himself to a loach fish. This necessitated the wrier taking a visit to the animal world websites for a description of the species. Here are two paragraphs describing the Dojo or Japanese Loach:

"This remarkable fish is quite hardy and adaptable, very easy to care for. They wiggle about in an eel like fashion scavenging the bottom of the sea for leftover bits of food, even munching on snails. They also like to dig and burrow into the substrate, often burying themselves.

"The Dojo Loach or Weather Loach makes an excellent community fish with other non-aggressive tank mates. They love to socialize with other fish and loaches, sometimes resting with them or sometimes chasing them about, but they don't hurt them."

Perhaps the Democratic Party of Japan, burned in the past year by its non-community minded kingfish, felt that Noda could restore party unity precisely because he can laugh at himself and is self-effacing.

The balloting for the Prime Minister pitted the supporters of outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan against the ranks of his bitter rival Ichiro Ozawa. The latter backed the Minister of Trade and Industry, Banri Kaieda, and on the first ballot Kaieda led the pack with 143 votes to 102 votes for Noda.

However, Noda had a deal with former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara who represented the anti-Ozawa forces within the party, that if either of the two came in first or second, the candidate eliminated from the ballot would turn over his support to the other. This is precisely what happened and on the 2nd ballot Noda defeated Kaieda 215 to 177.

This marked a victory for Kan, as Noda supports his policy of raising taxation to cut the deficit. When Noda's victory became known, Japanese bonds rallied in expectation that there would be sound fiscal policy.

The Japanese business Federation Keidanren declared its satisfaction and its chairman Hiromasa Yonekura called Noda''s victory "heartening", describing the next prime minister as "a stable leader, well-versed in taxation, finance and social security policies."

The Ozawa camp stressed growth over taxation and still clung to the idea that by eliminating waste, the government could get a grip on the budget deficits.

Noda has no illusions about the problems facing Japan and his government. He has compared them to a mammoth snowball that has rolled down the hill. Now the task is to get it back up again.

Like the snowball, the DPJ is mired at the bottom of the hill with an approval rating of 21%. The Liberal Democrats command 23% while 46% of Japanese support neither party.

The new prime minister will need all the gregarious skills of the loach fish to negotiate with the opposition on a recovery package.