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Shizuo Kambayashi/AP
Former Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda

Japan Looks to Replace Embattled PM, Regain Stability

September 04, 2008 02:36 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Several contenders have announced their candidacy since former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his surprise resignation. The victor will inherit a fractious, chaotic government.

Japan Looking for New Prime Minister

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Among the definite contenders is former defense minister Yuriko Koike, who officially entered the race on Thursday after she garnered the support of the necessary 20 lawmakers, according to Forbes. Other probable candidates include Taro Aso, a former foreign minister, and Kaoru Yosano, the economics minister who announced his candidacy on Thursday.

The BBC reported that Aso, the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has emerged as a front-runner to replace Yasuo Fukuda, who resigned Sept. 1. The election to pick the new prime minister will take place on Sept. 22, according to a statement made by Takashi Sasagawa, chairman of the LDP’s General Council, on Wednesday.

The new prime minister will be under immediate pressure to call for a new general parliamentary election, which by law must be held before September 2009.

In addition to political uncertainty, Fukuda’s resignation has raised some important logistical issues. Japan is now postponing a summit with China and South Korea that had been scheduled for this month, reported Agence France-Presse. “Preparation was under way … but it became impossible due to the state of things in Japan,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.

Background: Fukuda resigns

Fukuda announced his resignation on Sept. 1 during a nationally televised, late-night emergency news conference, explaining that he had been stymied by the opposition party and was trying to avoid a “political vacuum” as the government goes into a special parliamentary session later this month. “I felt that we must particularly stress the importance of the economy,” Fukuda said, according to the Daily Mail. “If it will help even a little bit to make the parliamentary session go smoother, I decided that it might be better for someone other than me to lead.”

His troubled tenure was marked by low approval ratings (29 percent in a recent poll) and stalled economic growth due to poor consumer spending and rising food and fuel costs. Shortly before his resignation Fukuda had unveiled a £9 billion plan for new spending to try to build up the economy.

Japan has been mired in political uncertainty ever since popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stepped down at the end of his term two years ago. Fukuda’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who succeeded Koizumi, also resigned prematurely, citing health reasons.

Key Player: Yasuo Fukuda

Yasuo Fukuda, the son of former prime minister Takeo Fukuda, is a veteran politician, despite having spent the first part of his career as a “salaryman” at an oil company. He entered politics after his younger brother, who had been their father’s political heir, became seriously ill. Yasuo initially served as his father’s aide and then later became a parliamentarian and chief cabinet secretary under Koizumi.

Opinion & Analysis: The effects of Fukuda’s resignation

Fukuda’s announcement has thrown the country into “political chaos,” given its timing before the dissolution of the House of Representatives for an upcoming general election, comments Tetsuya Harada a deputy political news editor of The Daily Yomiuri. “At present, there seems to be no way to predict how this new and chaotic chapter in the nation’s politics will play out.”

According to the BBC, an editorial in The Asahi Shimbun called Fukuda’s resignation “unmistakably cowardly,” and that it “only goes to show that Fukuda himself and the LDP do not possess the fundamental strength to effect a breakthrough in the difficult political situation.”

Japan's general public has reacted to the situation “quite coolly, with some disgust at politics as a whole,” said former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in an interview with the Mainichi Daily News. “Even within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), people are uneasy about the frequent changes in leadership. Many people backed Mr. Fukuda when he became prime minister and he had the public’s attention back then. But when he quit, he just quit on his own.”

Writer William Pesek said that, despite sexist stereotypes about Japan and the low participation of its women in politics and business, the candidacy of Yuriko Koike for prime minister may bring about a female leader in the country sooner than in the United States. “Japan needs more such trailblazers. This is, after all, a nation that until a few years ago was still naming men to oversee gender-equality issues. Yet this isn’t really about gender. Koike may be the closest thing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has to a charismatic agent of change.”
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