Will Fukuda have a honeymoon?

In his initial remarks yesterday, Mr. Fukuda indicated that he recognizes what Mr. Koizumi recognized, namely that the LDP is responsible for the state of the economy and politics.

Describing the election results, he insisted, “This is not old-style solidarity among factions.” His task: “Regaining the people’s trust.” He spoke at length on the problem of trust in politics, sounding like the most forthright of “outsider” American presidential candidates.

“In particular, concerning the pension problem, the truly big problem is that the people have been given the impression that they cannot trust politics and government,” he said. “I think this is an exceedingly big problem. Regarding this problem, each ministry is responsible, but I think that it is also the major responsibility of politicians, who have the position of directing this. In particular, I think the responsibility of the LDP, which has sustained governments for a long time, is great. I fully realize this responsibility, and it is essential to be committed to the idea that the LDP must be reborn.”

I have to imagine that we would not be hearing the word “caretaker” if these words came from a new prime minister twenty years younger and considerably more telegenic than Mr. Fukuda. As it is, it’s an open question whether Mr. Fukuda will be able to repeat Mr. Koizumi’s feat of leading the LDP to victory by campaigning against the LDP. [Ed. — Fool me once…] But I think he means it when he dismisses the idea of his being a cat’s paw of the factions. He has his own ideas about the LDP and its future — and they might be disappointing to his backers, Mr. Mori included. The question is whether he will be able to implement them.

Meanwhile, the tone he took on the looming problem of the anti-terror special measures law was distinctly different than that of his predecessors. Namely, he conceived the law in largely negative terms, as a way to avoid the opprobrium of other countries (which have been so kind as to thank Japan for its contribution). Not surprisingly, for this way of thinking Mr. Fukuda has earned the appellation of “realist” from Michael Green. The Fukuda cabinet will likely mean a turn away from the exuberant embrace of the US that characterized Japanese foreign policy under Messrs. Koizumi and Abe. As Mainichi suggests, a flexible, prudent approach will undoubtedly characterize Mr. Fukuda’s foreign policy in all areas. The perfervid ideological thinking that resulted in the Abe cabinet’s scheme for an “arc of freedom and prosperity” is set to retreat to the back benches and study groups of the LDP, for the time being anyway.

It’s actually an amazing trick Mr. Fukuda has pulled: he has managed to convince everyone (or the media, which has subsequently convinced everyone) that he is a mellow conciliator, when in fact his positions will make plenty of people unhappy. For all the talk of LDP unity, how long before young firebrands and old faction bosses get fed up with his way of governance and make their gripes known, loudly and persistently?

One thing is certain. Mr. Fukuda will not enjoy a honeymoon in his relations with the DPJ, no matter how eagerly he tries to reach out and cooperate. The DPJ has signaled that it will not relent in its confrontational stance and will continue to push for an early general election. Whether this strategy will succeed is entirely different question.

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