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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan's Flashy New Prime Minister Girds for Battle

TOKYO -- Parliament elected Ryutaro Hashimoto as Japan's new prime minister Thursday, and he swiftly named a cabinet of seasoned politicians to help him weather a string of looming political battles.


Hashimoto has the formidable task of holding together an unwieldy coalition in the face of tough opposition attacks and simmering economic woes that look certain to force a general election before the end of the year.


The trade minister in the previous cabinet, Hashimoto, 58, easily won power with the support of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, outgoing prime minister Tomiichi Murayama's Socialist Party and the small Sakigake Party, a coalition that has ruled Japan for 19 months.


In the closing act of a political drama set off by Murayama's surprise resignation Jan. 5, Hashimoto won 288 of 489 votes cast in the dominant 511-member Lower House.


Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition group Shinshinto, or New Frontier Party, won 167 votes, with the rest distributed among minor candidates.


"I'd like to set up an administration capable of creating something new, rather than simply aiming at reform," Hashimoto said after his election. The right-leaning Hashimoto is a debonair character who stands out against less colorful colleagues with his slicked-back hair, rakish suits and flashy cigarette holder.


He is the first LDP prime minister since July 1993, when the pro-business party lost its four-decade grip on power.


But for a tough-talking politician who made headlines by stonewalling U.S. car trade demands last year, Hashimoto's choices as cabinet ministers indicated he did not believe the time was ripe for any major gambles.


The new cabinet has only two ministers under age 50 and only one woman, who is also the only non-politician.


Hashimoto gave 12 cabinet posts to LDP members, six to Socialists and two to members of Sakigake, an LDP splinter group led by outgoing finance minister Masayoshi Takemura, who declined to continue in the cabinet.


Japan's new finance minister is Socialist Wataru Kubo, who also becomes deputy prime minister.


Kubo, 66, who has the task of defending a government plan to spend billions of dollars in public money to wind up failed home mortgage firms, is little known abroad but is regarded in Japan as a tough negotiator. For the post of chief cabinet secretary Hashimoto chose LDP stalwart Seiroku Kajiyama. Kajiyama, 69, is a skilled parliamentary deal-maker and electoral strategist.


A. senior LDP official forecast there would be no national polls before September.


"I don't think this change [in prime ministers] will hasten the Lower House dissolution. At the earliest, it will be around this autumn," LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato said.


General elections need not be held until mid-1997, but the opposition Shinshinto has called for polls to be held as early as possible, and wanted Murayama's successor decided by the nation rather than parliament.


"I demand he [Hashimoto] make the decision to return politics to normalcy by calling immediate general elections," Ozawa said after losing the parliamentary vote.


The new foreign minister is Yukihiko Ikeda. Hashimoto also appointed Japan's first woman justice minister, Ritsuko Nagao, a non-politician and retired civil servant.