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After the Storm

Author: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
October 1, 2007
South China Morning Post

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As Yasuo Fukuda begins his tenure as Japan’s 91st prime minister, the dominant sentiment is that he will bring stability — but that prediction will be tested in the months ahead. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was badly damaged by its loss in the July upper house election and the resignation of Shinzo Abe. The Democratic Party of Japan, which now controls the upper house, is in a position to challenge the ruling coalition’s agenda.

The campaign to succeed Mr Abe revealed the strains in the LDP ever since former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi took office. The country needs change, but the prescriptions are difficult to implement.

Mr Koizumi’s reform agenda was just the right amount of change for most Japanese. He capitalized on people’s disillusionment with bureaucrats and argued for repairing the discredited financial system. While he had moments of unpopularity, Mr Koizumi was offered an opportunity to demonstrate what many Japanese felt was lacking in their diplomacy — a commitment to a more forthcoming and forceful role in international politics. Competing with that record would be difficult for any politician, and perhaps expectations for Mr Abe were exaggerated from the start.

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