The election for ruling party president was supposed to bring relief to this politically and economically fatigued nation, to send a message that the government shared the public's desire for change and reform.

Instead, skepticism among the populace appears only to have grown in the hours since an affable but colorless consensus builder was picked to replace outgoing Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi has emerged as Japan's future premier after beating two reform-minded rivals to grab the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The win was a major victory for the party's old guard in its effort to beat back a challenge from a group of younger, feistier lawmakers.

"Obuchi has won points for his good-natured personality and management skills, but the qualities needed of a leader to guide Japan out of crisis are speed, decisiveness and the ability to execute," the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun said Saturday in an editorial.

Obuchi is expected to come under tremendous pressure in coming weeks to take actions to encourage growth in the world's second-largest economy and restore trust in a ruling party whose popularity has sunk to an all-time low.

One of Obuchi's first tasks will be to find coalition partners so the LDP can pass legislation in the upper house of Parliament, where it holds a minority of seats.

Analysts say the future premier will have to be a master compromiser to attract partners among rivals who smell blood after the ruling party's stunning defeat in July 12 upper house polls, the event that triggered the LDP's leadership contest.

In his first major act as party president, Obuchi Saturday rewarded the LDP's biggest factions by handing out the party's three executive posts to prominent members of each group.

Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the party's General Council, was named LDP secretary general, the party's second-most powerful leadership post after party president.

Obuchi also appointed former Post and Telecommunications Minister Takashi Fukaya as chairman of the party's General Council and former Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda as chairman of the Policy Research Council.

In Friday's ballot for party president, Obuchi won a majority by a wide margin, receiving 225 votes against 102 for former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama and 84 for Koizumi.

The lower house of Parliament will vote in the new prime minister on Thursday, and Obuchi is almost certain to win because the LDP holds a comfortable majority in the lower house.

The LDP's choice drew fire from opposition leaders, rebels within its own ranks and the public, in view of the ruling party's insistence that only a departure from factional politics would convince people that the LDP was serious about reforming itself.