TOKYO - Naoto Kan, the straight-talking populist named Japan's prime minister Friday, faces a host of daunting tasks, from reviving the nation's stagnant economy to cutting back its ballooning national debt.
But first he must survive a make-or-break test: Win back voters disgusted by the broken promises of his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, by next month's upper-house elections.
Decisive and down-to-earth, Kan may have just what it takes to regain support for the battered Democratic Party of Japan, analysts say.
Unlike the blue-blooded Hatoyama, Kan hails from an ordinary family and got his political start in civic activism. He's known for speaking his mind and gained popularity in the 1990s for exposing a government cover-up of HIV-tainted blood products.
"He has a chance. He's a credible new leader. Nobody doubts his reformist credentials," said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
"But there's no real honeymoon period," Nakano said. "Even though [the election] is his first test, it will be his make-or-break test."
The Democrats swept to power just nine months ago, trouncing the long-ruling conservatives amid high hopes for change and more government accountability. But public opinion quickly soured after Hatoyama got ensnared in a political-funding scandal and reneged on a campaign promise to move a U.S. Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa.
Kan, 63, Japan's sixth prime minister in four years, is aware of the challenges ahead of him.
"Our first priority is to regain the trust of the people," he told party members Friday.
He pledged to confront problems linking "money and politics." The finance minister under Hatoyama, Kan stressed the need to spur growth and tackle deflation in the world's second-largest economy, where falling prices and stubbornly high unemployment are dragging on a feeble recovery.
Kan also called ties with Washington the "cornerstone" of Japan's foreign policy but stressed the importance of working for "the prosperity of the Asian region."
Otherwise, Kan offered few specifics. Given the troubles that Hatoyama got into for failing to deliver on his promises, Kan is likely to proceed with caution.
"Having seen Hatoyama up close, how he dug a hole for himself, Kan realizes that cheap words are what he should be avoiding," Nakano said.
In the past, Kan has repeatedly said that Japan needs to raise its consumption tax from the current 5 percent to reduce Japan's bulging deficit. Friday he was much more circumspect, saying only that he would make an announcement at a later, appropriate time.
And rather than hurriedly announce a cabinet, Kan said he would reveal the members early next week, after which they will be appointed by Emperor Akihito.