TOKYO (AP) — Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda picked close allies Friday for key positions in his Cabinet as he tries to steer his troubled nation through disaster recovery, a nuclear crisis and a lengthy economic slump.
Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura announced the picks, including Koichiro Gemba, 47, as foreign minister and Jun Azumi, a 49-year-old former journalist, taking over the finance portfolio. Both are relatively young in a Japanese political world previously dominated by elder statesmen, and both are closely allied with Noda.
Yoshio Hachiro, 63, was selected minister of trade and economy.
"They will work like loaches mired in mud and sweating to get the job done," Fujimura said when announcing the lineup at the prime minister's residence. Loaches, a type of bottom-feeding, eel-like fish, have become a bit of an odd buzzword after Noda described himself as one in what has largely been interpreted as a self-deprecating remark.
Noda, a surprise choice for prime minister, brought along some fresh faces to the Cabinet.
Like Noda, Gemba studied politics in a well-known school created by Panasonic Corp. founder Konosuke Matsushita, who wanted to reform Japanese politics to become more democratic. Azumi previously worked for public broadcaster NHK.
Noda retained Goshi Hosono as the minister in charge of dealing with the nuclear crisis in Fukushima prefecture, in northeastern Japan.
He also kept Michihiko Kano, who ran against him for the party leadership and is considered well connected with veteran legislators, as agriculture minister.
Noda's full Cabinet was to be officially appointed by the emperor Friday afternoon.
In a nod to his key rival and party powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, Noda appointed lawmakers close to Ozawa as the defense minister and the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission.
Ozawa still has significant clout in the ruling Democratic Party and backed another candidate for the leadership post, former trade minister Banri Kaieda, who was defeated by Noda in an intraparty election.
Earlier in the week, Noda tapped Ozawa ally Azuma Koshiishi to be secretary-general of the Democratic Party, the No. 2 party spot.
People had been watching to see how Noda, Japan's sixth prime minister in five years, would woo Ozawa's faction amid deep divisions within the party. Kaieda garnered 177 legislator votes to Noda's 215 in the party vote earlier this week.
Robert Dujarric, professor of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, said the Democrats were still "learning on the job" after wresting power in 2009, displacing a conservative party that had ruled Japan almost continuously for half a century.
"Clearly, Japan needs a Cabinet that is capable of making good policy decisions and implementing it, " he said.
"But for several years, one could even say 20 years, Japan has been semi-paralyzed. Therefore, the voters have gotten used to this paralysis and expect very little from the prime minister and the Cabinet."
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