|【Japan Brief】New Fukuda Cabinet Inaugurated |
Japan Brief/FPCJ, No. 0768
September 27, 2007
New Fukuda Cabinet Inaugurated
On September 25 the Diet designated former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda as prime minister to succeed Shinzo Abe, who announced his resignation out of the blue on September 12. Fukuda’s father, Takeo Fukuda, was prime minister from 1976 to 1978; it is the first time in the history of constitutional government in Japan for two successive generations of the same family, father and son, to serve in the post. In the evening of September 25 Prime Minister Fukuda formed his new cabinet, keeping on board 15 of the 17 ministers who had belonged to the previous Abe cabinet.
The process of appointing a new prime minister went through various twists and turns. First of all, Fukuda was elected as the new president of the Liberal Democratic Party on September 23, thereby ensuring his path to the prime minister’s position. However, while initial forecasts had predicted a landslide victory for Fukuda in the LDP presidential poll, in the end the rival candidate, LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, gained an unexpectedly high number of votes. Against Fukuda’s winning 330 votes, Aso attracted 197 votes. The result showed that considerable criticism of Fukuda’s political stance exists within the LDP.
The next step was voting in the Diet, which has the authority to designate the prime minister. While the House of Representatives designated Fukuda, the House of Councillors designated Ichiro Ozawa, president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The Constitution stipulates that if the two houses disagree and no agreement can be reached through a joint committee of both houses, the decision of the House of Representatives takes precedence. So eventually Fukuda’s appointment as prime minister was finalized. This complicated process by which Fukuda was elected prime minister suggests that his administration might have difficulty managing political affairs from now on.
Change from Ideology-First to Coordination-Oriented Leader
Prior to the appointment of a new prime minister, the LDP had been forced into a corner and its capability as the ruling party questioned following its heavy defeat in an election for the House of Councillors on July 29 and then Prime Minister Abe’s abrupt announcement of his resignation. The media and political observers generally agreed that it was this situation that led to the emergence of Fukuda, whose adroitness as a coordinator is widely recognized. Fukuda, who served as chief cabinet secretary in the administrations of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, also holds the record of the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary at 1,289 days. The two prime ministers before him, Koizumi and Abe, both expounded their own ideologies and set forth a political style led by the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence), but Fukuda’s political disposition is thought to be quite different. The emergence of Prime Minister Fukuda can be said to signal a change from ideology-first leaders to a coordination-oriented leader.
In the evening of September 25, speaking at his first press conference as prime minister, Fukuda himself labeled his administration as a “back-to-the-wall cabinet” and expressed his sense of crisis, saying that “if we make one wrong step, the LDP will lose the reins of government.” In the formation of his cabinet as well, Fukuda retained almost all of the members of his predecessor’s cabinet. Regarding this cabinet lineup, Japan’s national newspapers on September 26 commented that it reflected the new prime minister’s priority on stability rather than hasty change.
On September 26 all five national newspapers carried long editorials on the inauguration of the Fukuda administration and the problems that it faces. Among them, there was a certain amount of praise for Prime Minister Fukuda’s political stance of coordination and cooperation.
The Yomiuri Shimbun editorial stated, “New Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, who served as foreign minister in the Abe Cabinet, is chairman of the Machimura faction, to which Fukuda belongs. Machimura has ample experience in both policy implementation and party and government affairs management. He will support Fukuda as the pivot of the Cabinet, by acting as a coordinator within the administration and between the ruling parties. New Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura, who served as defense minister in the previous cabinet, has been given the portfolio for the second time. New Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba held a similar portfolio as director general of the Defense Agency in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Overall, the new Cabinet lineup gives the impression of being a ‘cabinet that will get the job done,’ as it is a group of experienced, talented people who can be relied on to carry out their duties.” It went on, “Fukuda reappointed Kunio Hatoyama as justice minister and Akira Amari as economy, trade and industry minister despite their support for Aso in the presidential race. In this regard, a united front has been formed in the Cabinet.”
The Asahi Shimbun editorial (September 24) commented, “Many people were becoming tired of and uneasy about the hard-nosed politics in the Koizumi-Abe era, which was marked by high-profile political theatrics, political gestures to dredge up nationalistic sentiments, and policymaking controlled by the leader’s personal allies. In a recent Asahi Shimbun survey, 62 percent of the respondents said they preferred ‘a consensus builder’ as the next prime minister, against 31 percent who favored ‘a decisive leader.’ The poll results clearly showed the public wants a shift in the political winds. The LDP’s choice of Fukuda as the new leader apparently reflects this important change in the mood of society.”
Response to Mountain of Political Issues
Japan at present is facing many important and difficult problems. On the domestic front, among others, there is the widening gap between rich and poor, which is seen as the dark side of structural reform; anxiety about the social security system; and the impoverishment of the provinces. On the international front, there is the question of whether or not to continue Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling activities for ships of other nations, including the United States, and the issue of Japan’s policy toward North Korea, which involves the abduction problem. Many of the editorials urged Prime Minister Fukuda to adopt concrete measures to address these urgent problems.
The Mainichi Shimbun editorial observed, “The direction of a society of ‘independence and symbiosis,” which Prime Minister Fukuda indicated throughout his campaign during the LDP presidential election, and his response to structural reform, are not clear. We hope that he clarifies his position in his policy speech to the Diet, his replies to the interpellations after that speech, and questions and answers in the Budget Committee. Today’s social system and prosperity cannot be sustained without responding properly to social and economic trends. For that reason, politics must not be allowed to drift.”
The Nikkei editorial noted, “In administration consultations with the New Komeito, a fundamental revision of the Law for Supporting Persons with Disabilities was clearly stated. If the individual burden of 10% of expenses, which is already being implemented, is scrapped, a new source of funding will be necessary. Consideration of the freezing of a partial reduction of the child allowance was also clearly stated.” It declared, “Prime Minister Fukuda has stated that he will maintain the target of achieving a primary balance by fiscal 2001. Even if an increase in the consumption tax is unavoidable, a loosening of fiscal discipline at this point in time would expose the prime minister to criticism for being irresponsible.”
MSDF’s Refueling Activities: Requests to DPJ
The main focus in the current session of the Diet is the problem of continuing the MSDF’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean for ships of other countries. The DPJ is maintaining its position of opposition to the continuation of these activities. Regarding this issue, of the five national newspapers, the Yomiuri and The Nikkei editorials urged the DPJ to change its policy.
The Yomiuri editorial commented, “In opposing the extension of the MSDF mission, the largest opposition party has said the dispatch of MSDF ships and personnel is not directly based on a U.N. resolution, and that the MSDF activities represent the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. The demand and expectations for the MSDF’s activities are high in the international community, as demonstrated by the recently adopted U.N. resolution that expressed appreciation for the maritime interdiction activities in the Indian Ocean in which the MSDF is participating. As the DPJ supports international peacekeeping operations themselves, including the war on terrorism, it is necessary—and possible—to find common ground between the two parties.” It added, “To do this, the government must make efforts to win the understanding of not only the DPJ, but also a wide range of voters concerning the MSDF activities by providing thorough explanations, including information regarding the mission.”
The Nikkei editorial called on the DPJ to be flexible, saying, “There is an element of reason in the DPJ’s opposition to the continuation of refueling activities. However, opinion polls show that the number of people supporting a continuation is increasing. We are concerned that if the refueling activities are discontinued, there will be an impact on Japan’s international standing and influence. Though the problem needs to be thoroughly discussed in the Diet, we urge the DPJ, which aims to become the ruling party, to make a broad decision on whether it would be okay to pull out of the fight against terrorism.”
(Copyright 2007 Foreign Press Center / Japan)
*Member profiles of the Fukuda Cabinet