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Japan's next leader?

All eyes are on outspoken finance minister Naoto Kan.

He first made his name in the mid-1990s, when as health minister from a junior coalition party he fought bureaucrats who tried to cover up an HIV-related blood scandal. The Ministry of Health officials had tried to hide the fact that thousands of hemophiliacs had been given blood containing the HIV virus.

Two years after receiving widespread accolades from the press and public for his actions, he resigned from the Socialist Democratic Federation — which is no longer in existence — after revelations about unpaid national pension contributions and an extra-marital affair.

Despite the resignation, he remains, by Japanese political standards a very clean operator untainted by shady contributions or other funding scandals. He will also be the first premier for well over a decade who does not owe his political ascent to powerful ancestors.

Hatoyama’s political dynasty on the other hand, stretched back to his great-grandfather, and included a prime minister and a foreign minister. He both tested credulity and convinced the public he was truly living in a different world when he denied knowledge of a monthly stipend that exceeded $150,000 from his mother, an heir to the Bridgestone Tire fortune.

Kan also offers another true break from the past in that he is the only senior member of his party that did not originate from the Liberal Democratic Party that the DPJ finally defeated last year after half a century of almost interrupted power.

After the disappointment of Hatoyama’s premiership, many will now be hoping that Kan’s, which could start as early as next week, will at least be measured in years rather than months.