Japan's New Leader Seeks to Revive Public Trust Yasuo Fukuda, Japan's new prime minister, moves quickly to form a new cabinet. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party is facing a crisis of public trust that is unprecedented in more than a half century.
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Japan's New Leader Seeks to Revive Public Trust

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Japan's New Leader Seeks to Revive Public Trust

Japan's New Leader Seeks to Revive Public Trust

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Japan has a new prime minister. Its parliament yesterday confirmed Yasuo Fukuda as the country's new leader. Fukuda, who has a reputation as an efficient behind-the-scenes organizer, quickly formed a new cabinet and he made it clear that his ruling Liberal Democratic Party is facing a crisis of public trust unprecedented in more than a half century in power.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo.

ANTHONY KUHN: As expected, Fukuda won comfortably in the lower house of Parliament, which the Liberal Democratic Party controls. But the upper house of Parliament, which is controlled by the opposition, chose opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa for prime minister.

When there's a split decision like this, Japan's constitution says that the lower house's decision prevails. But the outcome suggests that Fukuda will have a tough time getting legislation through this split parliament.

One example is a bill that the government once passed to extend Japan's mission, refueling ships in support of coalition military operations in Afghanistan.

Fukuda restated his determination to restore public trust in the LDP. That trust was shattered by the corruption scandals and policy blunders of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration. Fukuda told reporters that the situation left him with no room for slip-ups.

Prime Minister YASUO FUKUDA (Japan): (Japanese spoken)

KUHN: I would say that I named my new cabinet as if I were fighting with my back to the wall, he said. If I make even one mistake, the LDP could be lost. We must remain vigilant.

Former deputy chief cabinet secretary Kosei Ueno once served alongside Fukuda. He says that the LDP may need to hold lower house elections to renew the party's popular mandate, especially after its crushing defeat in July's Upper House elections.

Mr. KOSEI UENO (Former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Japan): (Through translator) If the LDP runs into difficulty getting legislation passed, we may need to ask the people again which party they support. If the LDP wins in the lower house, that will supersede the Upper House election and we can be certain of the public's support.

KUHN: Ueno was among the LDP legislators who lost his seat in July. He says one reason for the LDP's defeat was dissatisfaction with the economic reforms over the past five years.

Mr. UENO: (Through translator) The reforms had a good effect in the whole and the economic recovery was beyond our expectations. But there were some side effects. There's the urban-rural gap and some industries have not fared as well as others. So we may need to slow down or adjust our reforms.

KUHN: Fukuda's first move in office was to name a new cabinet composed largely of Liberal Democratic Party faction bosses and ministers from Abe's administration. After Abe's blunders, many Japanese are relieved that an experienced and capable prime minister is now at the helm. But a return to the LDP's habitual back-room dealing and factional haggling can hardly be comforting.

Standing in the glass-and-steel canyons of Tokyo's Shibuya district, a young teacher named Orara Itto(ph) says she had hoped that the charismatic Shinzo Abe would have encouraged more political participation.

Ms. ORARA ITTO (Teacher): (Through translator) Abe brought up a lot of important issues and that's good, but he ran away before solving them. I had hoped that a new generation of politicians would be able to reflect our opinions with hope and energy, but it didn't happen.

KUHN: Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is an able administrator, but he admits he's no populist. So the Ms. Ittos of Japan must go on waiting.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.

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