Public reaction mixed on nation’s next leader

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Aso lacks,” Shuichi Minoike, a 29-year-old office worker from Chiba Prefecture, said at JR Akihabara Station.

Minoike said he is optimistic Fukuda will “utilize his established skills” when he faces critical decisions as the next prime minister, including the debate over extending the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and managing the pension record scandal.

Yaeko Azuma, 68, also visiting the Akihabara district, agreed, pointing out that compared with the 67-year-old Aso, the 71-year-old Fukuda is more likely to bring harmony to the government.

“Fukuda has substantial experience as the chief Cabinet secretary (under Junichiro Koizumi). He should be capable of bridging the LDP and the (opposition) Democratic Party of Japan,” the housewife said.

She said that even if the LDP is gripped by faction-based politics, the party needs Fukuda’s expertise to coordinate with the DPJ.

“Aso is still young. He will have another shot (to run for the LDP’s president),” Azuma said.

Meanwhile, Naoki Sano, 33, an office worker who came to Akihabara from Chiba Prefecture, said Aso was his choice to lead the LDP and reform the administration.

“It seems that Fukuda ran in the race because there were enough lawmakers who support him. The decision wasn’t made based on his own resolve,” Sano said, questioning the veteran lawmaker’s determination to manage the country.

“The public should have a say in choosing the leader of the country, similar to the U.S. presidential race,” he said.

Teruhisa Iinuma, 67, a gardener from Setagaya Ward, also said he would have preferred Aso as the next prime minister.

“We need (a prime minister) with strong leadership and (new) ideas, someone like Koizumi,” he said at JR Shinagawa Station. “Aso looks more interesting than Fukuda.”

Upset by Abe’s abrupt resignation and his Cabinet members’ scandals, some people said they expect little from Fukuda and the LDP-led government.

“Whoever becomes the prime minister, nothing will change. Abe disappointed (the public), so I don’t expect any lawmaker” from the LDP to take effective policies, said a 21-year-old woman from Hokkaido who asked to remain anonymous.

Yoko Sakai, 62, a housewife from Narita, Chiba Prefecture, said she wonders if blue-blood politicians from the LDP, including Fukuda, understand the concerns of the public, pointing in particular to the pension scandal.

“I’m stunned that some local and central government officials embezzled money from pension premiums,” she said. Lawmakers “do not understand that we are working hard and save as much money as possible,” as shown by how they did not prevent the pension scandal, she added.

Manami Shiga said in Akihabara she is ready to vote against the LDP in the next Lower House election regardless of the outcome of the party’s presidential election.

The 36-year-old housewife said neither Fukuda nor Aso could have healed her dissatisfaction with Abe’s Cabinet, which saw four ministers resign and one commit suicide in the last nine months. The puzzling resignation announcement by Abe was the last straw in her decision to ditch the LDP, she said.

“Fukuda has pledged to resolve the pension issues as the prime minister, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he resigned as the chief Cabinet secretary because of his failure to pay into the public pension program,” Shiga said.