Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 00:17 UK

Japan deadlock prompts resignation

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda bows after announcing his resignation

It was never going to be an easy job.

Yasuo Fukuda took over as Japan's prime minister less than 12 months ago after his predecessor's abrupt resignation. Shinzo Abe had stepped down because of ill health - a severe stomach condition blamed in part on the stress of running the country.

But Mr Abe had also presided over a costly defeat. His party had lost control of the upper house of parliament and with it the ability to push through legislation without a fight.

The power brokers who run Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party turned to one of their own to sort out the mess.

Mr Fukuda was known as a fixer who would, they no doubt hoped, be able to reach the sort of compromises needed to persuade the opposition to let him get his legislative programme through.

But many in the country asked why in the face of such a clear rejection of its policies in the upper house election, the party seemed to be retreating into its old ways, choosing a leader better at doing deals in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors than communicating clearly and effectively with the voters.

Mr Fukuda was already in his 70s. As the months went on and his popularity ratings collapsed, it was clear the public had little faith in him - the second prime minister in a row who had not fought a general election but had been appointed by his peers.

'Political vacuum'

In his resignation speech, Mr Fukuda made clear the main reason he could no longer carry on.

I thought it would be better for someone else to do the job than me
Yasuo Fukuda

The parliamentary gridlock had stymied his efforts to push through the policies he believed the country needed.

This is the second major scalp for the opposition in less than a year. First Mr Abe, now Mr Fukuda.

The Democratic Party's decision to oppose fiercely policies they judged the public did not like - a renewal of a controversial tax on fuel, a new mandate to supply the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan - paid off.

Mr Fukuda also suffered, as he complained in his resignation statement, from policies and problems he inherited but in his eyes had little control over.

A new health insurance scheme came into force that left many pensioners worse off. His was government struggling to sort out the mess left by previous administrations whose officials had lost millions of pension records.

But he bungled the selection of a new governor of the Bank of Japan, and under his watch the economy has fallen into a "technical", some say very real, recession.

It was the gridlock though that finished him.

Mr Fukuda said he wanted to avoid a political vacuum caused by the partisan struggles in parliament at a time when Japan's economy needed attention.

Fatal blow?

His critics say this is exactly what he has created. His party now has to choose a new leader, a process likely to take at least a fortnight, possibly longer.

LDP's Secretary General Taro Aso. File photo
Taro Aso is now widely expected to succeed Mr Fukuda

Whoever takes over will face pressure to call for an immediate general election. The governing party has lost two prime ministers in a row - both abrupt resignations, unexpected, unsettling for their colleagues, and for the country as a whole.

Some are already asking if this is a blow the governing party will be able to recover from.

The current cabinet's approval ratings are languishing below 30%.

The front-runner to take over as prime minister, the current LDP's Secretary General, Taro Aso, has kept a low profile for most of Mr Fukuda's premiership, no doubt to allow him to present himself as a fresh start.

There are those who question whether the party's 53-yeargrip on power (apart from a one-off 10-month break several years ago) is now looking more likely than ever to be loosened or even lost.

Do not underestimate, though, the opposition party's proven ability over the years to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Japan PM in surprise resignation
01 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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