Japan │ New prime minister

Japan has a new prime minister. Rather like Italy in the past, Japan often changes its prime minister, seemingly on a whim, but the past few years have been pretty bad, even by Japanese standards. Four prime ministers have come and gone since September 2006.

Unlike the previous occupants of the post, the new prime minister, Mr Naoto Kan, does not hail from a long lineage of politicians. His political career started with involvement in grass-roots movements. He entered the parliament in 1980, and has experiences both in government and in opposition. He has served as the minister for health, and is best remembered for unearthing and making public documents relating to AIDS caused by transfusions of HIV-tainted blood products, which showed that the ministry had been negligent. Mr Kan fought with the bureaucrats to do this, and he managed to push it through despite the civil servants’ resistance.

Known to be short on temper, and extremely sharp in parliamentary exchanges, Mr Kan is a different kind of politician in Japan. It remains to be seen how long his government will stay in power. The crucial test is whether the Democratic Party of Japan can cobble together a working majority in the Upper House, after half the seats are elected in July. If he manages to do so, then Japan may have a prime minster who will last for longer than a year. Hopefully.