Fukuda Leads Japan's Leadership Race
[Analysis] The 71-year-old veteran moderate garners broad support within the ruling LDP
Email Article  Print Article Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)    
Former chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, a 71-year-old veteran moderate with a reputation as a consensus-oriented politician, has emerged as the front-runner in the race to succeed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who abruptly announced his resignation on Wednesday.

Fukuda, the eldest son of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, on Friday declared his candidacy in the election, set for Sept. 23, to choose Abe's successor as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and hence as prime minister.

LDP secretary general Taro Aso, 66, previously considered by many to be a most likely successor to Abe, joined Fukuda later on Friday by throwing his hat into the ring as the election was officially declared the same day. Aso served as foreign minister under Abe until the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet late last month.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, 63, who had expressed on Thursday his intention to run in the race, bowed out on Friday, making it almost certain that the leadership race will be fought between Fukuda and Aso.

Many observers say the election of Fukuda, who has already garnered broad support across party factional lines, has become almost certain. Like Fukuda, Aso is a political blue blood. He is the grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

On Thursday, a group of rookie LDP lawmakers urged Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to join the leadership race. These lawmakers are dubbed "Koizumi children" because his popularity played a key role in helping them win seats in the last House of Representatives election in September 2005.

But Koizumi categorically ruled out seeking the helm of the LDP and government again. He was quoted as telling a young lawmaker, "I will not run. Look for another person." He was also quoted as telling former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori that his not running in the election is "100 percent" certain. Koizumi has declared his support for Fukuda.

In accordance with election-related schedules decided on Thursday afternoon by the general council, the top party decision-making body, Fukuda and Aso were expected to register their candidacy at the party headquarters on Saturday, officially kicking off campaigning for the Sept. 23 party election.

After Abe made his surprise resignation announcement on Wednesday, some party leaders planned to hold the election on Sept. 19. But many members protested, contending that more time was needed.

In addition to 387 LDP members of the Diet, Japan's parliament -- 304 from the House of Representatives and 83 from the House of Councilors -- the party's 47 prefectural chapters will vote, with three votes allotted to each. This means a total of 528 votes will be cast.

The LDP-led coalition lost control of the House of Councilors in the late-July election to the opposition led by the Democratic Party of Japan. But the LDP president will be assured of election as prime minister in the Diet, as the party controls the more powerful Lower House, whose decisions take precedence over those of the Upper House regarding the election of a prime minister.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the first part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times. The second -- and last -- part will come later.

2007/09/15 오전 1:19
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