Japan's new PM enjoys 60 percent support in polls

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Japan's new Prime Minister Naoto Kan, riding high on opinion poll ratings above 60 percent, was to unveil key posts in his centre-left party Monday, the eve of the formal launch of his government.

He succeeded Yukio Hatoyama on Friday to become Japan's fifth new prime minister in four years after Hatoyama stumbled over a dispute about a US airbase and became mired in political funding scandals.

Kan, who previously served as Hatoyama's finance minister, will formally launch his cabinet on Tuesday when Emperor Akihito swears in the new premier and his ministers at a palace ceremony.

Many key cabinet members are expected to stay in their current posts, including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Transport Minister Seiji Maehara.

Kan is expected to name his former deputy, 52-year-old fiscal hawk Yoshihiko Noda, to head the finance ministry as pressure mounts to revive the world's number two economy and slash mounting public debt.

Noda told reporters: "We want to work very hard as we have been given another chance" nine months after the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ended half a century of nearly unbroken conservative rule in general elections.

Hatoyama's resignation came after he backtracked on an election promise to move a US Marine Corps base off Okinawa island, enraging locals as well as the pacifist Social Democrats, who quit his coalition.

"Learning lessons from the Hatoyama cabinet, we want to work hard," said Yoshito Sengoku, 64, who is expected to become chief cabinet secretary, the prime minister's right-hand man and top government spokesman.

Public support for Kan, a one-time leftist activist, surged to 66.7 percent, compared with 20 percent or less for the Hatoyama cabinet, according to an opinion poll by TV network Tokyo Broadcasting System.

Some 70 percent supported the resignation last week of millionaire-premier Hatoyama, and 27 percent said they would vote for Kan's DPJ, up from 16 percent last month, in upper house elections in July, the broadcaster said.

"The recovery in support is good news for Kan and DPJ candidates running for the upper house election," said Tetsuro Kato, professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"But pending issues have yet to be resolved notably the US base issue," said Kato. "The new cabinet still faces uncertainties."

On Monday Kan plans to announce key posts in the DPJ after a general meeting of party lawmakers starting 0700 GMT.

When Hatoyama resigned, he took controversial party secretary general Ichiro Ozawa, dubbed the "Shadow Shogun", with him, as both had become mired in funding scandals that resulted in the arrests of close aides.

Kan, who serves as the DPJ's president, has said he would appoint Yukio Edano, a 46-year-old critic of Ozawa, to the number two post in the party.

In his first telephone talks with US President Barack Obama at the weekend, Kan stressed that he is "an ordinary citizen" compared with many Japanese premiers, who hail from rich political dynasties.

Kan received 900,000 yen (less than US$9,900) in corporate campaign donations in 2008 and has 22.31 million yen in assets, including those held by his wife, far less than Hatoyama's 1.4 billion yen, Kyodo News reported.

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