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Yasuo Fukuda: A steadier hand for Japan's helm?

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party hopes the election Sunday of a new party leader will help voters forget his predecessor.

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After two weeks of carefully choreographed politicking that followed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement that he would step down, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) elected Yasuo Fukuda as the party's president Sunday – a move that guarantees his succession to Japan's top post.

Mr. Fukuda is seen as more dovish and less assertive than Mr. Abe. That helped him best his main opponent, Taro Aso, whose closeness to Abe in terms of his nationalist outlook helped boost perceptions of Fukuda as a more conciliatory choice, especially in foreign relations.

"[Fukuda] will probably try to balance continued strong US-Japan relations with more sensitive and closer Japan-Asia relations," says Ellis Krauss, professor of Japanese politics and policymaking at the University of California, San Diego.

After the year-long tenure of Abe, which was marked by public gaffes and damaging missteps, the party was seeking a replacement who looks "more reliable and experienced," say analysts. As a member of the LDP's old vanguard, Fukuda is more closely associated with popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, under whom he served as chief cabinet secretary. By contrast, Aso's recent post as foreign minister may have placed him too close to the disgraced former premier.

"The party didn't think they could recover from the disastrous Abe administration without someone very different and not identified with Abe," says Mr. Krauss.

Other analysts suggest that LDP party heavyweights were infuriated by news that Aso had not revealed Abe's intention to step down to senior party officials, despite having had advance knowledge of the prime minister's plans. Some party officials apparently suspect that Aso's silence was a gambit to maneuver into the prime minister's office, say analysts.

Fukuda and Aso take similar policy positions


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