Fukuda, Yasuo (Japan)
Yasuo Fukuda became prime minister in Sept. 2007 following the resignation of Shinzo Abe. An experienced politician who had served as chief cabinet secretary in two administrations, he came with a reputation as a moderate with a strong base in the ruling party. Shifting away from the nationalistic rhetoric of his predecessors, he favoured stronger ties with Japan’s Asian neighbours, notably China. At home he slowed the pace of economic reform in response to a hostile political climate. Lacking support in the upper house of parliament, he saw much of his proposed legislation blocked, prompting his resignation in Sept. 2008.
Born on 16 July 1936 in Takasaki, Gunma, Yasuo Fukuda was the eldest son of Takeo Fukuda, a Liberal Democratic (LDP) politician who served as prime minister in the 1970s. After attending Asaba High School in Tokyo, Yasuo Fukuda studied economics at Wasada University. He graduated in 1959 and joined Maruzen Petroleum, where he stayed for the next 17 years. He was posted to the USA from 1962–64.
In 1976, when his father became prime minister, Fukuda became secretary to an LDP member of the Diet, and from 1977–78 worked as his father’s political secretary. In Feb. 1990 Fukuda was elected to the Diet as LDP representative for Gunma 4th District. He served as director of the committee on foreign affairs from 1992–99 and as parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs between Aug. 1995–Jan. 1996. In Nov. 1995 he was appointed director of the LDP’s foreign affairs division and became the party’s deputy secretary general the following year.
Fukuda served as chief cabinet secretary and minister of state for gender equality from 2000–04 under the premiership of Yoshiro Mori, then Junichiro Koizumi. In the turbulence surrounding Koizumi’s attempts to force through economic reforms—notably privatization of the postal and savings system—Fukuda gained a reputation as a moderate with the ability to build consensus. He emerged as a dove in foreign policy terms, distancing himself from Koizumi’s nationalism and advocating closer ties with China. From 2005 he was involved in constitutional reform and continued his rise within the LDP, being elected to the party’s general council in 2006. When Koizumi resigned in 2006, Fukuda was considered a potential successor but chose not to stand. Shinzo Abe became the new party leader and prime minister.
After heavy losses for the LDP in the elections of July 2007, Abe resigned and Fukuda stood against right-winger Taro Aso to replace him as party leader. The selection process was widely seen as a return to old-style Japanese politics, in which leaders of the party factions pledge their support in advance of the open vote. Fukuda campaigned on a platform of stabilizing the party and winning back the trust of the electorate which had been shaken by scandals and economic decline. He announced that he would not visit Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine for the war dead, a statement intended as a conciliatory gesture to Japan’s neighbours. Fukuda won the leadership race decisively but the vote in the Diet to elect a prime minister was split. The lower house elected Fukuda while the upper house, under the control of the opposition Democratic Party (Mt), chose Mt leader Ichiro Ozawa. Under Diet rules, the vote of the lower house prevailed and Fukuda took office on 26 Sept. 2007.
In a bid for stability, Fukuda kept many of his predecessor’s ministers in the cabinet. However, with the Diet’s upper house controlled by the Democrats, he faced difficulties in implementing his policies. In Nov. 2007, after failing in his attempt to extend Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean, he held secret talks with Ozawa on forming a coalition. However, plans were abandoned when they proved unpopular with voters. The ensuing stalemate saw the postponement of proposed tax and pension reforms. His choice for governor of the national bank was also overruled and plans for a new medical scheme for the elderly proved particularly unpopular. Internationally, he promoted stronger relations with regional neighbours and in Dec. 2007 made an official visit to China.
On 11 June 2008 the upper house passed a non-binding censure motion against Fukuda, which the lower house countered the following day. On 1 Sept. 2008 Fukuda resigned his office. He said that he hoped the shock move would end Japan’s political deadlock.