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Search Begins for New Japanese PM


Japan's ruling party has begun hunting for someone to replace Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who has stepped down. Mr. Fukuda had been in office just under a year. Jason Strother has more from Seoul.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party can not seem to keep prime ministers in power for more than 12 months. Yasuo Fukuda, who has been dogged by low approval ratings, suddenly announced Monday he would resign from his position.

His predecessor, Shinzo Abe, also stepped down as prime minister before reaching the one year mark last year.

The LDP already is beginning the hunt for a new party chief, who would become prime minister. A new party president will be elected later this month.

The party's general secretary, Taro Aso, on Tuesday said he was qualified for the job, although he has not directly said he would be a candidate in the internal election.

Timothy Savage, deputy director of the Nautilus Institute, a regional policy research group, in Seoul, says the LDP is struggling to find a leader who can stay in office.

"Well I think it's simply the unpopularity of the LDP in general and the dissatisfaction of the general public with the ruling party," he said. "What you have going on is the LDP is trying to hold on to its long standing monopoly of power by shuffling in one unpopular prime minister and replacing him with another unpopular prime minister."

With the opposition party in charge of the upper house of Parliament, Savage says the LDP will most likely have to call a general election in the next few months.

Should Aso become prime minister, Savage says Japan's relations with its neighbors will be rattled.

"Aso is defiantly aligned with the more nationalist right in Japan. I think actually the biggest problem could be is with North Korea, where there was recently some progress with the abduction issue under Fukuda," said Savage.

In August, Tokyo and Pyongyang agreed to re-open an investigation into the kidnappings of at least 13 Japanese civilians in the 1970s and '80s.

The LDP has dominated Japanese politics since the mid-1950s - leading the government for all but about a year since then. The party now governs as part of a coalition. However, it lost popularity over the last 15 years as Japan's economy has faltered. Mr. Fukuda's administration was marred by accusations of corruption and incompetence by some of his cabinet ministers. In addition, the country is divided over the government's support for the war in Iraq.


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