Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Daunting Tasks Face Japan's Next Premier

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Daunting Tasks Face Japan's Next Premier

Article excerpt

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's abrupt resignation Monday has left the ruling party searching for a replacement who can tackle the political deadlock and flagging economy that overwhelmed the outgoing leader's year in office.

The successor will also need to help revive the sinking popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for most of the past half century, and is required to hold general elections within a year.

He'll be the third prime minister in two years to try to lead.

Taro Aso, currently secretary-general of the LDP, has emerged as a likely candidate. The politician - known for his sharp tongue and love of comic books - could bring a more forceful, if more controversial, style of leadership.

"[Fukuda] gave the impression he was never really in charge, in charge of his party, of parliament, or of the government," says Ellis Krauss, a professor of Japanese politics and policymaking at the University of California, San Diego. "Watching him on TV, I was amazed at how uncomfortable and insecure he seemed to be."

Throughout his year in office, Fukuda struggled with low approval ratings, which hovered between 19 and 35 percent over the past eight months, according to polls conducted by Asahi, a major newspaper.

Fukuda, however, is not the only Japanese prime minister who struggled to lead. Last September, Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, also abruptly resigned after about a year in office, citing health reasons. "This is a sign that the LDP is in the process of collapsing," Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst.

With the exception of the popular Junichiro Koizumi, a charismatic leader who preceded Mr. Abe in the office from 2001 to 2006, many prime ministers have not lasted long in office. Beginning in 1989, Japan cycled through 10 prime ministers in 12 years, until Mr. Koizumi came on the scene, points out Richard Katz, editor of The Oriental Economist Report, a monthly newsletter about Japan and US-Japan relations.

Many lawmakers in the ruling coalition feared they would not be able to win the next election in the lower house under Fukuda's leadership. …

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