TOKYO Japan's defeated Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Monday picked a former finance minister as its new leader, handing him the challenge of rebuilding a battered party that had ruled for most of the past 54 years.
Despite the LDP's historic election loss last month, many voters say in polls they want to see the healthy revival of the long-dominant party to provide a rival to the novice Democratic Party of Japan, support for which is high -- but fragile.
But the fact that the new party chief, 64-year-old Sadakazu Tanigaki, has been in parliament for 26 years and defeated two younger rivals with the backing of the LDP old guard could make it hard to convince the public the party is ready for change.
Analysts say the LDP's chances of staging a quick comeback are slim unless Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government stumbles badly.
"I don't think the LDP is on its way to recovery," said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "They don't have the people, they don't have money ... and they don't have an idea about what to do that they can agree on."
But a failure by Hatoyama's administration to deliver could deprive the Democrats of a chance to win a majority in an election for parliament's less powerful upper house next year, forcing it to keep relying on tiny but noisy opposition partners to pass laws smoothly.
The Democrats thrashed the LDP in an election last month after several years of voter frustration over scandals and long-term uncertainties about the economy and social security, bringing in a new government that vows to spend more on consumers and reduce bureaucrats' clout over policy-making.
"We need to go back to the basics that politics is for the people and reconsider what the LDP can do for the people," Tanigaki told LDP lawmakers after being chosen to succeed former prime minister Taro Aso.
"I will do my utmost to regain the public's confidence and take power again by standing at the front in this fight."
Tanigaki, a fiscal conservative who was elected for the 10th time to his lower house seat last month, has noted the need for the party to stick with its conservative roots, but said it should use more young and female talent to rebuild the defeated party.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)