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Japan's Next Leader, Promising Change, Gets Ready to Take Office

Yukio Hatoyama is expected to become prime minister on September 16. But some see the historic election as more a rejection of the Liberal Democrats than an acceptance of his Democratic Party of Japan. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Japan's parliament is expected to vote on September sixteenth to make Yukio Hatoyama the next prime minister. Later this month he plans to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the Group of Twenty meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

His Democratic Party of Japan ended more than fifty years of nearly continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. The D.P.J. won almost two-thirds of the seats in lower house elections last Sunday. Not bad after just eleven years as a party.

Yet many observers see the results as more a rejection of the old than an acceptance of the new. Many voters were dissatisfied with the L.D.P. and its reaction to Japan's worst recession since the Second World War. Japan has the world's second largest economy after the United States.

Taro Aso, prime minister since last September, resigned as leader of the L.D.P. after its defeat.

Yukio Hatoyama is sixty-two years old. He trained as an engineer at Stanford University in California. He is one of Japan's wealthiest lawmakers. He once belonged to the L.D.P. In fact, his grandfather, a former prime minister, helped form the party. But he says the Liberal Democrats left policymaking to aging politicians out of touch with the needs of the people.

The next prime minister promises to clear out government bureaucrats. But there are risks if the D.P.J. dismisses experienced civil servants. Almost half of its newly elected members have never served as lawmakers.

Yukio Hatoyama promises "revolutionary change." He says he wants to move resources away from corporations and toward families in the form of child care support and free education. He wants to take Japan in a new economic direction, away from what he considers the undesirable parts of American-style capitalism.

His campaign promises also included seeking greater independence from American policies and closer ties with China and other neighbors in Asia.

He may not extend Japan's operation to refuel ships for the war in Afghanistan. And the D.P.J. has questioned an agreement about an American Marine base on the island of Okinawa. But the United States says deals governing the forty-seven thousand American troops in Japan are not up for renegotiation.

Japan's next leader says his policies are not anti-American. He spoke to President Barack Obama by phone. He said Japan's alliance with the United States will remain what he called the "foundation" of his government's diplomacy.

The White House says President Obama stated his strong wish to work together to strengthen global economic recovery and fight climate change. Other wishes included working for a nuclear-free Korea and to defeat extremists in Afghanistan.

The first test of the new government's popularity may come next year in upper house elections in Japan.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake with Kate Woodsome. I'm Steve Ember.