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Profile: Yasuo Fukuda

Yasuo Fukuda
Mr Fukuda was buffeted by scandals while in office
Yasuo Fukuda, who surprised observers by resigning after less than a year as Japan's prime minister, is a veteran politician.

The 72-year-old is a member of the political elite - his father was Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

When he was selected to succeed Shinzo Abe, he was seen as a safe pair of hands who might be able to calm the storm caused by Mr Abe's time at the helm.

But instead his government has suffered from chronic unpopularity, and his proposals have often been thwarted by the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament.

That Mr Fukuda was facing an uphill struggle was not in doubt.

But his announcement in a late-night emergency news conference on 1 September that he was resigning startled analysts - one of whom, Jeff Kingston of Tokyo's Temple University, declared himself "totally gobsmacked".

'Dove'

Despite his parentage, Mr Fukuda showed little interest in professional politics in his youth, spending the first 17 years of his career as a "salaryman" in an oil company.

All that changed when his younger brother - whom their father had been grooming as his political heir - fell seriously ill.

Mr Fukuda became his father's aide, and when his father retired, he became a parliamentarian.

A party elder with broad support, Mr Fukuda served as chief cabinet secretary - the top government spokesman - under Mr Abe's predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

When he eventually announced his candidacy for the leadership, major ruling party factions came out in support of him.

Mr Fukuda was seen as a foreign policy dove who eschewed Mr Abe's more ambitious policies, such as revising Japan's pacifist constitution to facilitate military deployments overseas.

He emphasised the need for cordial ties with China, hosting the first visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade. He refused to pay his respects at the contentious Yasukuni shrine, which Japan's neighbours see as a symbol of the country's past militarism.

He adopted a more flexible stance towards North Korea to resolve a row over Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Scandals

But Mr Fukuda's consensual - some would say lacklustre - leadership style no longer suited the country he inherited.

The passive nature of his rule was not always deliberate - from the start of his term in office, his power to push through legislative change was stymied by the opposition's control of the upper house.

And during his time in office, a series of scandals chipped away at Mr Fukuda's public standing - including lost pension records, bribery in the military and a healthcare scheme that caused outrage because it raised costs for elderly people.

Between April and June, the Japanese economy shrank. Were that to happen for a second consecutive quarter, it would technically qualify as being in recession.

A cabinet reshuffle in August gave Mr Fukuda's government a temporary lift, but in the process he promoted a rival, Taro Aso.

Mr Aso is now seen as the prime candidate to replace Mr Fukuda.


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