Barely a year into his job as Japanese Prime Minister, the head of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced his surprise resignation from both positions last week. Five candidates are in the running to replace him as leader -- because of the LDP’s majority in parliament whoever wins will most likely become prime minister.
Former Japanese defence minister Yuriko Koike is the first woman to try for LDP leadership
Four men and a woman are competing for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and thus for Japan’s premiership.
All from the same party, they differ on how to tackle the problems of Japan’s ageing population and slowing economy, which have dominated the campaign so far.
Closest to the outgoing Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in this respect is Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano, who is a staunch advocate of fiscal reform: "My campaign motto is politics with dignity and friendly reforms. Necessary cuts cannot take place without pain. Nonetheless, reforms are necessary. That’s why they have to take place in a cordial atmosphere.”
This cordial atmosphere is not reflected by political in-fighting within the LDP, which has ruled Japan since 1955, with only one brief interruption. Internal power politics and rival groupings have often brought down the party leader.
Last week, former foreign minister Taro Aso, an old rival of Fukuda’s, who last year lost the party leadership contest, announced that he was standing in the September poll.
The outspoken and conservative Aso is a clear favourite -- he is in favour of government investment programmes to boost the economy and against his rival Yosano’s proposed fiscal reforms.
"The government has to delay increasing value added tax until economic growth averages 2-3 percent again,” Aso said recently.
“The country’s economic growth is more likely to stagnate if there is a tax increase. The government’s most important aim has to be to put the Japanese economy back on track.”
Aso, a manga comic fan who is also known for his flippancy, is highly popular in Japan. Many members of parliament are supporting him in the hope that he can ensure LDP’s victory in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Observers expect the new prime minister to dissolve parliament and call elections before the end of this calendar year.
First female candidate for LDP leadership
Party leadership contests are nothing special in Japan but female candidates are few and far between. Yuriko Koike is the first woman to set her eyes on the LDP leadership. "In the past, the choice was always between A or B or No,” Koike said when she announced her candidature. “
“I want to show that there are other alternatives. There are many resources in Japan that we don’t exploit at the moment. For example, the potential of women. In economic matters, we have to deregulate the economy, create new jobs and develop opportunities for small firms.“
Koike has already been minister of the environment and minister of defence. Although she is highly respected among the population, many doubt that traditional Japan is ready for a female prime minister.
So four men and one woman are competing for the votes of 528 members of parliament and party representatives on 22nd September. But most observers still expect the next Japanese prime minister to be a man.