But the pairing of a ruddy prime minister and Japan’s unbecoming political mess now seems fitting.
Noda, a fiscal hawk, called on Japan to take the uncomfortable but necessary steps that political infighting and meek leadership have long prevented. For Noda, 54, that means raising the consumption tax, reforming antiquated industries and possibly joining with a rival party in a grand coalition.
Japan’s recent history of revolving-door leadership has led to a national skepticism that any of these goals can be accomplished. None of Noda’s five predecessors lasted longer than 15 months, and none shaped policies to help Japan as its population ages, social security spending soars and the economy slides.
“But a loach has its own qualities,” Noda said.
It’s suited to handle the muck.
On Tuesday, Noda was confirmed by both houses of parliament as Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. He was selected president of the Democratic Party of Japan in a runoff vote Monday, defeating Trade Minister Banri Kaieda, 215 to 177.
Noda’s unlikely path to the job raises concerns about whether his support will last, political analysts say.
During the two-day campaign period, with five candidates in the mix, Noda was neither the popular favorite nor the favorite among members of parliament. Roughly 50 percent of the nation wanted former foreign minister Seiji Maehara. Almost one-third of the 398 lawmakers from the ruling party who were eligible to vote wanted Kaieda, who had been endorsed by the divisive backroom dealmaker Ichiro Ozawa.
Noda emerged ahead of Maehara and Kaieda after two rounds of voting, largely because of the complicated factional rivalries that divide the Democratic Party of Japan. In the first round, Noda finished second, trailing only Kaieda. The two finalists then entered a runoff that pitted the pro-Ozawa camp against the anti-Ozawa camp. A divided party picked Noda only because its anti-Ozawa group is still marginally bigger.
Noda vowed to stitch the party together, but his decisions could also lead to its dissolution. Noda was the only candidate to favor tax increases. If he bans pro-Ozawa party members from top cabinet positions, he will further endanger his support.
His repeated remarks in defense of Japan’s war criminals — they’re not technically war criminals, he says — have angered South Korea and China.
“It’s very difficult to envision widespread support” for Noda, said Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist for Japan at Credit Suisse. “Philosophy-wise, we can say Noda wants fiscal austerity. But the reality is, there will be no change. Legislation will just get stuck.”