World News

Factbox: Five facts about Japan PM frontrunner Naoto Kan

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Finance Minister Naoto Kan is viewed by many in the markets as frontrunner to succeed Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister, after Hatoyama said on Wednesday he would step down.

Following are five facts about Kan, who was also deputy prime minister and economics minister:

-- Kan, 63, a veteran lawmaker who founded the Democratic Party with Hatoyama more than a decade ago, shot to fame as health minister in the 1990s, when he spearheaded a campaign to unveil the scandal over HIV-tainted blood products.

-- While not an expert on fiscal policy, Kan has been one of the most vocal cabinet members in pressing the need to fix Japan’s tattered finances. He has tried to submit to parliament a bill to set a target on fiscal reform, without success so far.

-- He has also urged the party to review spending programs and seek a sales tax hike, although his views have not gathered much support from Hatoyama and party lawmakers worried about scaring away voters ahead of an upper house election expected in July.

-- Shortly after becoming finance minister in January, Kan surprised markets by saying he wanted the yen to weaken more and that most businesses in Japan were in favor of a dollar/yen rate around 95 yen. But since then Kan has mostly toed the ministry’s line on currency policy, repeating that stable currencies are desirable and markets should set forex levels.

-- Kan was a vocal critic of the Bank of Japan when it was reluctant to ease monetary policy. He was minister in charge of the economy when the government declared in November 2009 that Japan was in deflation. Shortly afterwards the BOJ used the same term and eased policy. Kan has also urged the BOJ to target inflation of 1 percent, a level roughly in line with what the bank defines as long-term price stability. But he has toned down his criticism lately and has not joined calls from some ruling party officials for more aggressive action.

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto