Yasuo Fukuda was sworn in as Prime Minister this week by the Emperor, and he immediately set to work, trying to re-establish the shaken credibility of the government and the Liberal Democratic Party. Although Abe's sudden departure was probably a good thing in the long run - considering the bad luck and management problems his government continually suffered - his departure was too sudden in a country that is known for its conservativism. Fukuda must re-establish the stability, credibility and ability of the party in a very unusual political situation: one in which the DPJ controls the Upper House. Already, supporters and members of the opposition are pushing Fukuda to call an election, and establish a popular mandate.
Certainly, Fukuda will call an election soon, but more at a time of this choosing. He is likely to set a up a state visit with China soon, and this will help establish him more as a statesman in the eyes of the electorate. Every day he is in office before an election is another day that he can solidfy the persona of a statesman. Whether he will call an election before November 1 (when the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Act expires) is uncertain. There are pros and cons for calling the election after he has attempted to push through the legislation. On the one hand, it will be easier for the party to work together on the legislation if they do not also have to focus on campaigning. On the other hand, if there is a danger that the election becomes a sort of referendum for the Japanese Mission in the Indian Ocean. The Asahi Shimbun has published several articles that hinting that the Japanese Self Defence Forces might well be also supplying US forces on their way to Iraq as well as the MIO, while the Mainichi has said that having the Upper House and Lower House controlled by two parties is like having two prime ministers. The newspaper goes on to say that Fukuda should hold a snap election now, while the iron is hot.
Cabinet Changes have not been dramatic. So far, 14 of the original Abe cabinet of 17 have kept their positions. The changes are as follows:
- Nobutaka Machimura, head of the largest LDP faction, has gone from the foreign ministry to become the Chief Cabinet Secretary. His position within the LDP as well as having the top government spokesman job leave him well placed to have a large impact on the administration. He is a moderate.
- Masahiko Komura, leader of the Komura faction, has gone from Defence to replace Machimura in the Foreign Ministry. He is also President of the Japan-China Frienship Parliamentarians Union.
- Shigeru Ishiba returned to Defence, a post he held under Junichiro Koizumi, when he famously supported a deployment of Japanese forces to Iraq in 2003.