New Japanese leader is sworn in to start reform

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The Independent Online

Japan's new Prime Minister took office yesterday, launching an untested government which has pledged to radically change how the nation is run and make domestic demand, not exports, the engine of economic growth.

Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan beat the Liberal Democratic Party in last month's election. The LDP had ruled for nearly 54 years since its founding in 1955, with one 11-month interruption between 1993 and 1994.

Mr Hatoyama, 62, faces pressure to make good quickly on his promises to focus spending on consumers, cut waste and reduce bureaucrats' control over policy. He must also try to ensure that a nascent recovery from Japan's worst recession since the Second World War stays on track, despite an already huge public debt.

"I want to create the kind of politics in which politicians take the lead without relying on bureaucrats," said the premier, wearing his lucky gold, silver and blue striped tie, at his first news conference.

"We might make mistakes as we do things by trial and error... We would appreciate if the people nurture the new government with patience."

Mr Hatoyama's cabinet, a balance of former Liberal Democrats, ex-socialists and younger conservatives, will have to work quickly. Managing ties with America while charting a more independent course will be a further priority.

The US-educated Mr Hatoyama, who is to meet Barack Obama next week, is expected to reassure him over ties and perhaps postpone calls for renegotiation of agreements on US troops stationed in Japan.

"The first step will be to build a trusting relationship with President Obama," he said. "Japan has tended to have a passive role in its relationship with the US. We want an active role."