Party Chiefs in Japan Favor Veteran
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
TOKYO, Saturday, Sept. 15 — Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party on Saturday appeared set to choose Yasuo Fukuda, a veteran lawmaker considered a force of stability, to become its next leader and Japan’s new prime minister.
Candidates to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as party president were scheduled to file Saturday for the Sept. 23 party election. But by the morning, Japan’s news media were effectively crowning Mr. Fukuda the country’s next leader.
The party’s factional leaders have overwhelmingly backed Mr. Fukuda to guide it through the crisis caused by Mr. Abe’s abrupt resignation announcement on Wednesday, according to news reports here. Of the party’s nine factions, eight have endorsed Mr. Fukuda, while Taro Aso, considered the front-runner until two days ago, was backed only by his own small faction.
It is not certain that all faction members will heed their leaders, and a sizable group of lawmakers are not affiliated with any faction. But Mr. Fukuda appeared to have enough support to win a majority of the 528 votes in the election, with 387 party lawmakers each holding one vote, and prefectural chapters holding 141 votes.
“If these were normal times, I wouldn’t come forward,” Mr. Fukuda, who was to make an official announcement of his candidacy on Saturday, told reporters on Friday. “But this is exactly a time of emergency.”
The speed with which the party factions rallied behind Mr. Fukuda, once he made his intention known, suggested they were seeking a pair of steady hands after an administration marked by scandals and gaffes.
At 71, Mr. Fukuda is a dour political figure who tends to make sarcastic and elusive comments — the opposite of the former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, whom Mr. Fukuda served as chief cabinet secretary. But respected widely inside the party, with strong links to both the United States and China, Mr. Fukuda is regarded as a caretaker who could possibly fend off the newly empowered opposition Democratic Party.
Mr. Fukuda is an ideological moderate who pointedly distanced himself from Mr. Abe, a nationalist who pushed for a stronger military and patriotism in schools. Like other moderates in the party, Mr. Fukuda is thought to believe that under Mr. Abe and Mr. Koizumi, Japan has overemphasized its alliance with the United States at the expense of maintaining good relations with its Asian neighbors.
“With Japan-U.S. relations as the foundation, how do we strengthen relations with Asia?” Mr. Fukuda said Friday.
The Liberal Democratic-led government does not have to call a general election for two years, but it will face intense pressure to call one sooner and ask for a popular mandate. Mr. Abe was chosen by party members, and the intense maneuvering of faction bosses to pick his successor will create the strong impression that Japan’s prime minister has emerged from back-room deals.
Ozawa Ichiro, a former LDP politician, has a large axe to grind against his former party and is willing to use his new networks to destroy the LDP as we know it. Fortunately, enough LDP politicians have gotten enough brains to throw their hat behind Fukuda Yasuo instead of Aso “The Asshole” Taro, who will carry on with the stupidity exhibited by Abe, Mori, and Koizumi.
Fukuda being described by a moderate is a sensible description since he really isn’t a liberal as he is also a supporter of constitutional reform and the idea of expanding the SDF’s role. However, he is not exactly stupid like Abe by drawing on inspiration from World War 2 or assorted Japanese militarism to rally support and he is not the type to easily cave into pressure.
He is also a pragmatist, according to news reports, who wants to present Japan with a friendly image and adjust foreign policy by giving Asia greater if not equal attention as the United States is receiving. It would make sense to get a sane man like Fukuda to lead the interim government to make Ozawa look like the loose cannon and steal the DPJ’s thunder.
So let’s say Fukuda takes power. He would first compromise with Ozawa to not renew the current law but pass a new version that allows for deployments only under UN mandates. Currently there is a UN mandate in Afghanistan which would allow the SDF to help out in some capacity, but at the same time keeping them out of Iraq to help Bush’s War of Terror. In any case, Fukuda is a relatively better choice compared to Aso, Koizumi and assorted nutjobs in the LDP.