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Prime Minister Abe's stunning announcement last week of his intention to resign has been followed by yet another surprise: Taro Aso, Abe's former foreign policy minister and close second, is unlikely to win the leadership election within the LDP. Instead, the LDP factions look as though they are moving the bulk of their support behind a different type of man from Aso, Yasuo Fukuda. Fukuda, a law-maker with years of experience, including office under Junichiro Koizumi, seems to be a return to the old style of Japanese leadership.
First, there is his age. At 71, he promises the electorate exactly what Abe failed to deliever: calm leadership tempered by years of experience. A return to normality, or as some critics would have it, a return to the stereo-typed grey Japanese Prime Ministers of the post-war period: uncontroversial and staid. Fukuda does not have strong foreign policy goals; rather, his goals seem to be a mixture of the pragmatic and the traditional. Regarding the Far East, he promises to continue Abe's warm diplomacy toward China, indicating his intention to halt the Prime Ministerial visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Furthermore, there has also been signs that he intends to open relations with North Korea, pending that country's compliance on the nuclear issues. He has neither the will nor the stomach for Abe's hardline stance on the abductee's issue.
As far as relations with the US are concerned, Fukuda favours a more nuanced relationship with Japan's traditional security partner. Certainly, he is supportive of a strong relationship with the US, however he is likely to balance this with stronger ties with China. He has already indicated his commitment to the MIO mission in the Indian Ocean and to introducing new legislation, intended to replace the Anti-Terrorism Special Legislation Act.
Fukuda does not share Abe's enthusiusm for Constitutional Reform. Both Koizumi and Abe worked hard to investigate constitutional reform measures in the Diet, though both also suffered a public backlash. Many in the Japanese public still support the pacificist Article IX and various NGO's and interest groups have gathered strength on the back of Abe's decline.
The LDP has set its internal election date as September 23, so the Japanese public will learn who is the new Prime Minister in little under a week.
Still, a week in politics, as the old expression goes...
These views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of the Institute
John Hemmings, Research Associate, Asian Programme, RUSI