Yasuo Fukuda has been sworn in the ninety-first prime minister of Japan.He took over from Shinzo Abe, and Japanese politics is back to square one.
Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, of which Fukuda was elected sosai or director-general to replace Abe, has ruled the country with a couple of brief interruptions since it was formed in 1956.Its head automatically became the prime minister when it controlled a majority in the Lower House of the Diet, and that leader had been elected in fact by powerful faction chiefs until Junichiro Koizumi came to power in 2001.
Koizumi was a maverick with leadership.He and his neo-Conservative supporters changed the ruling style of the country to carry on reform to make Japan a “normal country.”That means they want to get Japan back in world politics as a power it used to be before World War II.They wanted more say in international affairs and that is why Japan demands that it be made a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.Koizumi was able to force all factions – there were at least nine – to cease to function and anointed Abe as an heir to continue all the policies necessary to revamp the government.Abe failed to live up to everybody’s expectations and quitted after the LDP had lost control of the Upper House of the Diet or the Senate.
Fukuda and Taro Aso were the two contenders for the DPP leadership to succeed Abe, who resigned abruptly.Aso was supported by his own small faction, while Fukuda won the endorsement of all the other factions of the party.As a matter of fact, Fukuda and Aso vied with Abe for the same leadership to step into Koizumi’s shoes a year ago, but had to drop out in the face of the anointed heir. Japan has reverted to its faction-dominated politics with the end of the brief Abe stint.
As Fukuda said he was too old to compete with Abe when he withdrew from the 2006 race, he may be truly so to cope with hard tasks facing Japan a year later.He has to settle critical issues between Tokyo and Pyongyang.He has to cope with a rising China that poses to surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy in a few years.He has to readjust relations with the United States. He has to solve the touchy problem of a national pension system.He has to continue stimulating the Japanese economy.As if all these questions were not enough hard nuts to crack, he is confronting an emboldened opposition that is pushing for a new general election to oust the disarrayed ruling party from power. Should Fukuda be forced to dissolve his new cabinet and call an election of a new Lower House, his LDP might lose a majority in the chamber, where the prime minister is elected.
A son of a former prime minister, Fukuda at 71 is a traditional Japanese politician.He served as a secretary to his father, Takeo Fukuda, before beginning his political career as freshman Diet member in 1990.The younger late bloomer Fukuda was chosen by his faction chief Yoshiro Mori in 2000 as chief cabinet secretary, the number two post just under the prime minister.He was Japan’s longest-serving chief cabinet secretary, holding that position for more than three years. He has learned well how to survive in the faction-ridden LDP.In fact, he had continued to serve under Koizumi in that capacity until he was found to have failed to pay pension premiums and forced to resign in 2004.
No Japanese expect Fukuda to offer a charismatic leadership like Koizumi. They had expected Abe as such a leader when he started his brief tenure.They were utterly disappointed, however.They now hope Fukuda will put the LDP house in order so that Japan will continue on its way to a normal country.
Versed as he is in solving intramural strife, Fukuda has little difficulty reorganizing the disarrayed LDP into a more cohesive party. The LDP, in fact, is an amalgamation of political groups with diverse opinions and different interests.They stay together just for the purpose of staying in power.Factional strife often triggers a split.Morihiro Hosokawa, a former LDP, formed a splinter party and was elected prime minister.Ichiro Ozawa, who heads the largest opposition Democratic Party, served one time as LDP secretary-general. With Fukuda as sosai, the LDP will see proselytes or defectors.
Foreign relations are a totally new field for the new prime minister.The best he can do is to revive and modify the three-point Fukuda doctrine his father announced in Manila in 1977 as Japan’s Southeast Asian policy guideline.Takeo Fukuda, the prime minister then, promised that Japan would never be a military power, build “heart-to-heart” trust with all ASEAN countries, and do what it can to contribute to the peace and common prosperity of the region.A modified Fukuda doctrine expands the coverage beyond Southeast Asia to include other parts of the world, China and Korea in particular.But the fact is that Japan is already a military power, albeit without nuclear capability and not as big as either the United States or China.While as chief cabinet secretary, Fukuda himself proposed to reconsider Japan’s non-nuclear defense policy as a trial balloon to test international reaction.He promised not to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where Japan’s war dead, including war criminals not killed in action but hanged, are honored.China may be appeased a little, but disputes over undersea oil resources can’t be solved by a mere promise to refrain from a pilgrimage to the Shinto shrine, which is considered a sign of the revival of Japanese militarism.Issues with the two Koreas can’t be settled by the repetition of the determination to build earnest trust.Japan can’t but hurt relations with the United States, if Fukuda buckles under public pressure to withdraw support for the peace-keeping in Iraq.
Fukuda has to be a very good political tightrope walker to remain prime minister for longer than his father.