Aso Taro, the New Substitute

Måndag, 22. September 2008     0 kommentti(a)
Kristian Kurki

Today, September 22, Aso Taro was voted President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and is thus one step away from being elected Japan’s next premier.


Aso’s taking office would be an eventful occasion if it weren’t for the fact that he will be no less than Japan’s 14th prime minister in the past twenty years. This statistic is even more striking if one considers that Koizumi Junichiro ruled the roost for what is by Japanese standards a whopping five years. Average time in office for the other twelve PM’s is so low that, in most other parliamentary democracies, it would signify chronic political crisis.

But, needless to say, Japan is unique. Prime ministers come and go while the ruling LDP’s cliques and factions persist. Seemingly interchangeable PM candidates are set up to meet the public and the press while conservative backstage committees filter policy propositions carefully. Cards are kept not just close to the chest, but locked in a safe in the next room.

Of course, Koizumi was different. He ensured his survival in office from 2001 to 2006 only by confronting his own party. He swept the board, busted factions and brought in a host of new, loyal MPs. He changed the rules of the game, expounded his political goals, and won.

After Koizumi, the LDP has reverted to past practices. Pawns are being put back into place around the board to protect the kings and the queens. Reform this, reform that – talk about reform has been on everyone’s lips for years, but going for real reform is usually political suicide.

Aso does use language similar to the visionary Koizumi. In the run-up to the LDP presidency, he spoke of a revitalised Japan, one with a robust economy, a bright future and confident foreign policy.

Yet concrete policy initiatives seldom figure on the agenda. Rather, Aso is riding out the dying tsunami that Koizumi had raised.

It seems the LDP are pinning their hopes on this former Olympic skeet shooter (he finished 41st at the Montreal Olympics in 1976), comic book fan and grandson of Yoshida Shigeru (one of post-war Japan’s most prominent prime ministers) to hold his own in the next general elections, when the LDP’s hold on power itself is at stake.

Meanwhile, the inauguration of Aso’s cabinet most likely signifies a continuation to Japan’s US-centred foreign policy, unyielding stance on North Korea, firm but friendly relations to China and low-key interaction with Europe.

Even if Aso aspires to make changes, statistics suggest he won’t be in office long enough to achieve it.

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