Shake-up Under Way In Japan's Ruling Party The leadership of Japan's ruling party is up for grabs after the resignation of the country's second prime minister in less than a year. The leading contender, Taro Aso, has a reputation for brash rhetoric.
NPR logo Shake-up Under Way In Japan's Ruling Party

Shake-up Under Way In Japan's Ruling Party

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his resignation after less than a year. Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images hide caption

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Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Tara Aso is a political blueblood with a reputation for brash rhetoric. Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images hide caption

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Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Japan's government just went from slow-motion to stalled, with the resignation of its second leader in less than a year.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said this week that he is stepping down in the face of a parliamentary deadlock over the country's flagging economy.

Fukuda's announcement came amid polls showing his popularity dropping as low as 29 percent. He blamed Japan's opposition parties for blocking his major policy initiatives and said a new team is needed to break the deadlock.

The 72-year-old prime minister's inability to make the government work came as a surprise to many who viewed him as a consummate political insider. The scion of a prominent Japanese political family and the son of a former prime minister, Fukuda was the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary in Japan's history.

The Liberal Democrats are set to vote on a new leader September 22, and the man widely considered to be the leading candidate is Taro Aso, a former foreign minister. Aso was Fukuda's rival for the prime minister's post last year, but lost because the staid Fukuda seemed to offer a better prospect for stability.

In contrast to Fukuda, Taro Aso is anything but bland. He developed a reputation for brash rhetoric as foreign minister and commands his own small faction within the LDP.

Aso also is a blueblood, the grandson of postwar Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. Aso's father ran a cement factory, which was accused of using slave labor during World War II. His sister is married to a cousin of Emperor Akihito.

Aso has called for giving Japan a larger role in international security matters. He proposes an "Arc of Freedom" — in other words, a string of countries hemming in China. Under pressure from Japanese businesses to maintain stable ties with Beijing, he has reined in his warnings about the "China threat."

Aso has said he believes Japan can dodge the current threat of a recession by boosting government spending. Critics in his own party say it's more important to cut the country's crushing national debt.

While masterful at reeling off sound bites and working crowds, he is also known for letting fly the occasional outrageous gaffe. He has been quoted as justifying Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Aso has called Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, a country.

He also has said that Japanese, with their "yellow faces," would fare better in the Middle East than "blond, blue-eyed" Westerners had. He also is well-known for his love of Japan's popular "manga" cartoons — one of the key exports of "Cool Nippon" and sometimes a vehicle of hard-line nationalist views.