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Japan opposition picks former FM as new leader

[TOKYO] Japan's struggling main opposition party on Friday elected a former foreign minister as its new leader - the third person to hold the post in 12 months.

Seiji Maehara, 55, beat out former top government spokesman Yukio Edano, who was a high-profile face during the country's 2011 tsunami disaster.

The centre-left Democratic Party swept to power in 2009, ousting the long dominant conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

But it was booted from office in late 2012 by the resurgent LDP, led by current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, following a series of mis-steps and policy flip-flops, along with criticism over its handling of the tsunami-triggered Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The party's last effort at a re-set was the September 2016 election of Renho, a former model and TV anchor who goes by one name, who became the party's first female leader.

She quit in July, dogged by controversy and an inability to capitalise on scandal-hit Abe's falling popularity.

On Friday, Mr Maehara vowed to resuscitate Japan's feeble opposition.

"The public don't believe that we can rise to power again," Mr Maehara told fellow lawmakers Friday.

"I'll change that to show Japanese people that this party is an option again. Let's do this together and change the government," he added.

Mr Maehara - who had a brief stint leading the party formerly known as the Democratic Party of Japan a decade ago - is a hawk on security policy, but takes a more centrist stance on social issues, including Japan's growing rich-poor gap.

He was foreign minister for about half a year and transport minister during Japan Airlines' 2010 bankruptcy.

Though still the largest opposition force, the party has seen its position in parliament wane further, and was recently stung by a poor performance in local elections for the Tokyo assembly.