New Liberal Democratic Party President Yasuo Fukuda was elected prime minister by a divided Diet on Tuesday afternoon amid the political turmoil stemming from Shinzo Abe’s sudden resignation announcement two weeks ago.
The House of Representatives picked Fukuda as prime minister, while the House of Councilors elected Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa. After consultations between the two chambers failed to reach an agreement, the Lower House choice prevailed under the Constitution.
After the ministers in Abe’s Cabinet resigned en masse in the morning, Fukuda announced a new lineup in the evening that retained most of them — including Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga — to ensure there will be enough continuity to deal with legislative business in the Diet, which is still in session.
Also brought back was Abe’s foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, who will serve as Fukuda’s chief Cabinet secretary. Machimura is the leader of the largest LDP faction, of which Fukuda is a member.
Former Defense Minister Masahiko Komura, also a member of the former Cabinet, will take over for Machimura as foreign minister. Shigeru Ishiba, a former chief of the Defense Agency, was appointed defense minister.
An attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace is scheduled to be held Wednesday morning, which will formally approve Fukuda and his team as Cabinet members.
“Day by day, I feel the weight of responsibility getting heavier and heavier,” Fukuda told fellow LDP lawmakers at a meeting before the vote in the Lower House. “I will do my best to create a society in which the young can have hope and everyone can have a sense of security.”
In his first news conference as prime minister, Fukuda acknowledged that his Cabinet is “up against the wall” — having been launched following the chaos created by the collapse of Abe’s administration.
He said he will do his best to resolve the pension record keeping problem — one of the major issues that contributed to the downfall of the Abe Cabinet — “in order to regain public trust in politics.”
He also said he will try “more than ever” to win cooperation for his legislative agenda from the opposition camp, which controls the Upper House. He said he is especially ready to talk with the DPJ, the biggest opposition party, on key issues such as pensions and the consumption tax.
Fukuda also offered an apology for the two-week stalemate in the Diet, during which the LDP elected their new leader following Abe’s sudden announcement on Sept. 12 of his intention to resign.
Fukuda, 71, is the first prime minister whose father was also prime minister. Takeo Fukuda held the office from 1976 to 1978. It is also the first time since 1994, when Tomiichi Murayama became prime minister, that Japan will have a leader in his 70s. Murayama was 70 years old.
As expected, the LDP-New Komeito coalition, which controls the Lower House, voted for Fukuda as prime minister.
But things did not go as smoothly in the Upper House, where opposition parties voted for Ozawa. The ruling bloc lost its majority in the Upper House in the July 29 election.
In the Lower House vote, Fukuda garnered 338 of the 477 votes cast, while Ozawa got 117. Nine votes went to Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii, seven to Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima and five to Tamisuke Watanuki, head of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party). One vote was void.
In the Upper House, 117 of the 240 votes were for Ozawa, 106 for Fukuda, seven for Shii, five for Fukushima and four for Watanuki. One Upper House vote was also void.
With no one winning a majority in the upper chamber, a runoff was held between the top two candidates. Ozawa received 133 votes and Fukuda 106.
Following the split between the two houses, a joint committee was formed to select the prime minister. But it failed to reach agreement and the more powerful Lower House’s decision prevailed. It was the first time in nine years such a committee was needed.
DPJ lawmakers argued that the result of the July election was the most recent expression of the public’s “voice,” and Ozawa should therefore become prime minister.
“Public opinion is clear,” said Azuma Koshiishi, chairman of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus. “That is why (the LDP) should seek judgment from the public by dissolving the Lower House” and holding a general election.
Under Article 67 of the Constitution, when the two chambers fail to reach an agreement, the result in the Lower House takes priority.
Ozawa told reporters later in the day that nothing will change even though Japan has chosen a new leader.
“The ruling LDP and New Komeito will remain the same no matter who becomes their leader,” Ozawa said. “The LDP and New Komeito pushed (policies) that turned Japan into a distorted and warped society, creating disparity, unfairness and inequality in every field. There is no other way but for such a (coalition) to end its rule as soon as possible for the public.”
Ozawa said he will do everything he can to ensure the DPJ wins the next Lower House election, which must be held by September 2009.
Fukuda met with Akihiko Ota, head of New Komeito, in the morning and agreed to continue their coalition.
He admitted to reporters that he asked former LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, who ran against Fukuda in Sunday’s LDP presidential election, to join his Cabinet.
“The LDP is in a difficult position and it will be tough to manage political power without the cooperation of (all members),” Fukuda said. “The LDP is in a crisis and I don’t want to trigger (problems). Things won’t go well without everyone’s assistance, so I asked Aso for his cooperation.”
According to Fukuda, Aso declined the offer because he wanted to rest after having served in various key Cabinet and LDP positions over the past few years. Fukuda added that he will talk to Aso again.
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