Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 10:09 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 10:09 | SYDNEY

Japan: Prime Ministerial merry-go-round


Malcolm Cook

1 September 2011 15:09

Yoshihiko Noda has become Japan's third prime minister in less than two years, its sixth in five years and 17th since the beginning of the Heisei era in 1989. Should we expect Noda to last longer than all of his predecessors since the charismatic maverick Junichiro Koizumi, who survived his full term? Or should we expect the prime ministerial merry-go-round to spin again soon?

At first glance, it looks like Noda may face a short and disorienting ride, for three main political reasons:

  1. He faces a 'twisted parliament' where his party, the DPJ, controls a large majority in the Lower House but not in the Upper House. While Noda was overwhelmingly voted in as prime minister in the Lower House, he did not gain a majority in the Upper House and was forced to a run-off that he won by 3 votes.
  2. He faces a split party where the largest but not majority faction (the Ozawa/Hatoyama group) backed Banri Kaieda, who won the first round of votes for party leader but lost to Noda in the run-off. In the first round, Kaieda picked up 143 votes against Noda's 102. In the second round, Noda triumphed with 215 votes against Kaieda's 177. The anti-Ozawa groups that supported Prime Minister Naoto Kan backed Noda against Kaieda. In an effort to heal this split, Noda has nominated Ozawa supporter Koshiishi Azuma to be the next DPJ Secretary General.
  3. Noda faces a deeply alienated electorate that seems unwilling to give new leaders much initial support. In a recent opinion poll, the ruling DPJ received 21% support, while the opposition LDP garnered 23%. Forty-six percent of respondents supported no party.

I hope Noda does last longer than his most recent predecessors, particularly as he has consistently backed raising Japan's value added tax, a politically risky but fiscally necessary policy. However, each of these three reasons by itself is a significant challenge. Put them together and Noda may not last long on the prime ministerial merry-go-round.

Photo by Flickr user Knowsphoto.