TOKYO — Japan's prime minister and his Cabinet resigned en masse today ahead of a vote in Parliament to install former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as the country's new leader.
Noda was elected Monday to head the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, virtually ensuring that he'll be named prime minister in the Parliament vote expected later today. He succeeds Naoto Kan.
Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano said Kan and his Cabinet agreed to resign this morning.
Noda, seen as a fiscal conservative, will face several major issues ahead, including how to fund the recovery from Japan's devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the nuclear crisis touched off by the disaster, and the rapid strengthening of the nation's currency on international markets.
Nearly six months after the quake-spawned tsunami devastated Japan's northeastern coast, dozens of towns are still cleaning up and struggling with reconstruction plans. The tsunami-damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has displaced about 100,000 people who live in temporary housing or with relatives, unsure of when they will return.
"It's a tremendous pile of difficulties," said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University. "All the while, there's so much pressure on the government to deliver."
A fiscal conservative, Noda is well-liked by some in the business community, but he's also viewed as lacking charisma. A profile in the mass-circulation Asahi newspaper earlier this year described him as "a deep thinker, but also bland, inoffensive and nonconfrontational."
Noda defeated Trade Minister Banri Kaieda — who was backed by a party power broker — in a run-off election, 215-177, among ruling party members of Parliament after none of the initial five candidates won a majority in the first round.
As party chief, Noda will become prime minister because the Democrats control the more powerful lower house.
He faces an immediate challenge in restoring public confidence shattered by political infighting in the wake of the disasters — sentiment that sent Kan's approval ratings plunging below 20 percent.
"Let us sweat together for the sake of the people," Noda told fellow party members after the vote. "This is my heartfelt wish."
Noda will become Japan's sixth prime minister in five years, a dismal track record of turnover that has done little to help the country tackle its problems and recover some of the confidence it has lost since the booming 1980s.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States looked forward to "continuing close cooperation with the government of Japan and the next prime minister across a broad range of issues facing our two nations."
Noda is a staunch supporter of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, which he has called "essential for Japan's security and prosperity." And while praising China's economic development, he has cited concerns about their growing military strength.