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Japan's Ruling Party Chooses New Leader

Japan's ruling party has chosen the country's longest-serving chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, to lead the party and succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A spokesman for Japan's Liberal Democratic Party announced the results of Sunday's presidential election a few hours after lawmakers cast their ballots.

Fukuda, a political moderate with years of government experience, won 330 of the 527 valid votes. His rival, the conservative former foreign minister, Taro Aso, won 197 votes VOA's Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong.

Like many lawmakers in Japan, Yasuo Fukuda comes from a political family. He was born in 1936 on the main island of Honshu, the eldest son of future Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

Yasuo served as political secretary during his father's time in office, from 1976 to 1978. In 2000, then-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori appointed the younger Fukuda chief cabinet secretary. He retained that post well into the term of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, stepping down in May of 2004. This made him the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary in the country's history.

Analysts say he lasted so long in the job because of his ability to build bridges between the prime minister's office, the ministries, and factions within the party.

Tomohito Shinoda is a political science professor at the International University of Japan. He says Fukuda has less experience than some other veteran LDP members, but his time as cabinet secretary equips him to serve as the nation's leader.

"So he knows the…challenges and difficulties we are facing both in domestic affairs and foreign affairs. That is his strength," shinoda said.

A soft-spoken man, Fukuda is willing to compromise in the interest of good relations with Japan's neighbors.

He has joined other legislators in proposing a secular alternative to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors all of Japan's war dead, including a number of convicted war criminals from World War Two.

China and South Korea, which suffered under Japanese militarism, view the shrine as a glorification of Japan's wartime past, and the two countries were angered by former Prime Minister Koizumi's frequent visits to the shrine. Fukuda says that as prime minister, he will not visit Yasukuni.

This is not the first time Fukuda has run for LDP president. He announced his candidacy to replace Mr. Koizumi in 2006, but he dropped out of the race before the election was held.

Fukuda is also no stranger to scandal. His resignation as chief cabinet secretary came after revelations that he and other ministers had failed to pay their required amount into the national pension system. He said his failure to pay was not deliberate.