Parliament declared ruling-party candidate Keizo Obuchi Japan's next prime minister Thursday, rejecting an opposition leader who had a bigger following among Japanese voters. Obuchi takes the helm of a country wrestling with its deepest recession in decades.
Obuchi snared a decisive victory in the powerful lower house. He lost to the opposition leader Naoto Kan in the upper house but since the lower house has the power to overrule the upper house, Obuchi was declared the winner after the two chambers failed to compromise.It was the first time the chambers have split over who should be prime minister since 1989.
Obuchi, 61, succeeds Ryutaro Hashimoto, who was forced to quit after voter outrage over the stumbling economy dealt the ruling Liberal Democratic Party a painful defeat in July 12 upper-house elections. Obuchi served as foreign minister under Hashimoto.
Following Friday's election, Obuchi made the rounds for traditional greetings at the offices of political parties and was to present himself and his Cabinet before Emperor Akihito later in the day.
The Liberal Democratic Party stalwart takes over a country suffering its worst recession since World War II, with record-high unemployment and spiraling bankruptcies. Obuchi also faces divisions in his own party and the growing threat of an increasingly popular opposition.
For Thursday's vote at least, the ruling party showed unity. Even former Health Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who challenged Obuchi for the LDP presidency, called for support for the new government.
"It's not a question of believing in the new administration or not," he said. "We have to believe in it and we have to work toward the end of solving Japan's financial crisis."
The opposition, meanwhile, said Kan's victory in the upper house better reflected the opinions of voters. In recent polls, Japanese voters have picked Kan as the person they would most like to see as prime minister.
Kan won the upper house with 142 of the 245 votes counted. But in the lower house Obuchi prevailed with 268 votes of 497 ballots, a comfortable margin above the 249 votes needed. Kan was the runner-up with 164 votes.