Another Japanese Prime Minister Quits But Can You Name Him?

Posted by: Ian Rowley on September 1, 2008

Big news tonight in Japan. The Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda just resigned. Appearing at press conference at 9:30pm local time, the 72-year-old leader blamed opposition parties, which have been using control of Japan’s Upper House to block legislation forwarded by Fukuda’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. When asked how a new LDP leader would make much difference Fukuda, true to his time in charge, didn’t give a clear answer. “The Opposition is constantly in my way,” he said. “We need to make progress.”

Despite wallowing in the polls with an approval rating of just 29%, the move is a shock. Just one month ago, Fukuda reshuffled his Cabinet, hoping a new lineup would reinvigorate the LDP’s standing. Now, just like his disappointing predecessor Shinzo Abe, he has quit suddenly after less than one year on the job. Unlike Abe, who quit citing ill-health, Fukuda insisted his health was in fine fettle save some trouble reading. However, he confessed that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan’s blocking of LDP policies had “had an effect on his mindset.”

The Japanese people might argue that LDP bungling during his and Abe’s ill-fated tenures as Prime Minister have affected their mindsets too. While stockmarkets around the world have sunk in recent months, Japan’s fell faster and deeper as foreign investors worried that reform programs launched by former Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi were being reversed. In the last quarter, Japan’s economy shrank and inflation, currently at 2.4%, is the highest in years and outstripping stagnant wage growth. Savings, meanwhile, earn almost zero interest in Japanese bank accounts. On the international stage, despite Japan holding the G-8 summit in Hokkaido in July, I’d guess few outside Japan know who Fukuda, or Abe, are.

Most depressing of all, Fukuda’s failure will probably do little or anything to change a system, which appears more about meeting the whims of Japan’s political set than the country. At a time when Japan faces genuine challenges, such as how to respond to the global downturn, an ageing population, and the rise of China to name three, the political class appears as out of touch and self-serving as ever. At the end of tonight’s press conference, one reporter asked Fukuda why it was he often seems to be talking about something else when in fact he is talking about himself. Rather than accept his seeming distance might not have been a vote winner, Fukuda suggested it was a good thing. “I may have sounded distant in the past but I am able to view myself objectively and that is my strength,” he said, having just announced his resignation minutes earlier.

Reader Comments

Jose

September 1, 2008 2:39 PM

It is a pitty to have one of the most powerful and interesting countries of the World governed/dsigoverned by a Political class watching permanently the size, colour..of its navel/interest/.. Very disapointing, gentlemen.

Sanjay

September 1, 2008 7:05 PM

In the absence of any substantive over-arching ideology, Japanese politics easily falls victim to petty personal feuding and narrow special interest groups. But Japanese don't permit themselves to have any ideological direction for their country, lest they be labeled fascists. They've got to snap out of it and stop treading water, otherwise they'll eventually drown.

Optimist

September 1, 2008 8:11 PM

Unlike China, the good thing about Japan is that politics is largely decoupled from the economy. The country works wonderfully well inspite of the Government. That shows the maturity of Japan. And no...I am not Japanese.

md3

September 1, 2008 9:39 PM

"politics is largely decoupled from the economy" sounds so naive. In fact, politics will never, ever decouple from the economy. Have you heard about the term 'Pork-barrel projects'?

Strategery

September 1, 2008 11:07 PM

At least the Japanese prime ministers know when things are bad and when to call it quits. In the US, our leaders maintain that all is well, despite a failed war, record government and trade debts, record energy prices, a failing economy, uncontrolled illegal immigration, a poor education system and a healthcare crisis.

melv

September 2, 2008 12:01 AM

Yeah, what Strategery said.

Billy Bob

September 2, 2008 12:47 AM

As long as Japan continue to be number 1 in holding their US Tresuries and Mortgage bonds, they can do whatever they wan't with their do-nothing prime ministers. The fact that Japanese voters never have the coverage to vote in another political party to govern them, regardless how thoroughly rotten the LDP has been in the last 20 years, should be wellcome worldwide. Becasue the LDP has always been consistently mediocre.

JD

September 2, 2008 1:44 AM

I guess that since he's hosted the G8 summit - something his father couldn't do back in the '70s, and has seen through the Beijing Olympics finish without any hitches
(and make sure the contaminated dumpling issue didn't resurface in Japan while they were at it)
and doesn't have any motives left to stay on as PM any more...

He should now retire from politics and spend his remaining life retirement at bliss in China - his REAL home to where he belongs
I guess they owe him more than a Emperor's welcome for all that he did for them...

sakina

September 2, 2008 7:27 PM

“I may have sounded distant in the past but I am able to view myself objectively and that is my strength.”

There is a hidden implication behind that "that is my strength" comment.

Direct translation was "I am different from you," which also connotes the translation in this article.

It is cynical how he just cant even pretend to be nice or to sound sincere.
What a guy...

What should be concerned is, as the japanese media is already discussing, who the next PM is going to be.

Mainichi newspaper reported that Koike, former defense minister is running for the election.

First female PM? Is my country ready for it?

Naaaa... I dont know....

Or

The conservative(extremely, in my opinon) Taro Aso?

Yet another possibility would be Ichiro Ozawa?

Nonetheless, the next election is going to be very exciting.

Sie

September 2, 2008 7:58 PM

It is true that the Opposition party has been always on the LDP's way. Although I am not particularly favour of the LDP, all I had seen was that the Opposition party just deny every single ideas from the leading party and there is no cooperation at all from the Opposition party to improve the current situation which Japan is facing.

Although the LDP-Komei coalition party is not the best party in Japan, Democratic Progress party is far worse than the LDP.

I hope all the political parties in Japan will be cooperative each other to tackle the issues Japanese are facing such as rising China, ageing society, out-of-date political system...

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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