The revolving door of Japanese politics keeps on spinning

If you’re looking for job security, you probably don’t want to run for prime minister of Japan. Prime Minister Taro Aso’s government is once again under threat, following former Japanese minister Yoshimi Watanabe’s resignation from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed Japan with few interruptions since 1955. Watanabe’s move comes at a time ...

589580_090113_aso5.jpg
589580_090113_aso5.jpg

If you're looking for job security, you probably don’t want to run for prime minister of Japan. Prime Minister Taro Aso’s government is once again under threat, following former Japanese minister Yoshimi Watanabe’s resignation from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed Japan with few interruptions since 1955. Watanabe's move comes at a time when Prime Minister Taro Aso is experiencing levels of unpopularity that would shock even President Bush, with approval ratings below 20 percent.

Ever since 2006, Japan has seen a revolving door of Prime Ministers. Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda each held the top position for about a year before anemic approval ratings, LDP electoral losses, and legislative paralysis forced them from office. Watanabe’s maneuver is meant to force Aso to call snap elections, instead of waiting for the general elections scheduled for September. A group of Watanabe-led LDP legislators could join the opposition in blocking legislation in the lower house of Parliament, paralyzing Aso's ability to govern. If he succeeds, Prime Minister Aso will likely follow the path of his two successors.

The legacy of Junichiro Koizumi, who served as Japan's Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006, weighs heavily on his successors. Japanese politics had historically been controlled by Japan's traditional political families working within the internal factions of the LDP; Koizumi changed all that by taking his case directly to the Japanese voters. With Japan's preeminent status in Asia threatened by an enduring economic recession and China's rising power, none of the post-Koizumi leaders have been able to gain the public's trust in a similar way.

If you’re looking for job security, you probably don’t want to run for prime minister of Japan. Prime Minister Taro Aso’s government is once again under threat, following former Japanese minister Yoshimi Watanabe’s resignation from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed Japan with few interruptions since 1955. Watanabe’s move comes at a time when Prime Minister Taro Aso is experiencing levels of unpopularity that would shock even President Bush, with approval ratings below 20 percent.

Ever since 2006, Japan has seen a revolving door of Prime Ministers. Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda each held the top position for about a year before anemic approval ratings, LDP electoral losses, and legislative paralysis forced them from office. Watanabe’s maneuver is meant to force Aso to call snap elections, instead of waiting for the general elections scheduled for September. A group of Watanabe-led LDP legislators could join the opposition in blocking legislation in the lower house of Parliament, paralyzing Aso’s ability to govern. If he succeeds, Prime Minister Aso will likely follow the path of his two successors.

The legacy of Junichiro Koizumi, who served as Japan‘s Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006, weighs heavily on his successors. Japanese politics had historically been controlled by Japan‘s traditional political families working within the internal factions of the LDP; Koizumi changed all that by taking his case directly to the Japanese voters. With Japan’s preeminent status in Asia threatened by an enduring economic recession and China’s rising power, none of the post-Koizumi leaders have been able to gain the public’s trust in a similar way.

“Koizumi was committed to serious, structural reforms, and no other Prime Minister has made that sort of connection with the Japanese public,” the New America Foundation‘s Steve Clemons told me.

The good news is that Japan‘s opposition is gaining enough strength to challenge the LDP, which could mean a new crop of leaders and ideas. Faced with a daunting set of challenges, that could be exactly what Japan needs.

Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.