Japan's ruling party is to elect a new leader Sunday from two candidates, former chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda and party secretary general Taro Aso. Since the winner is assured of the premiership, the election result is expected to largely affect Japan's future policies.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election was called following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's sudden resignation on Sept. 12. In the past several days, Fukuda and Aso have been making campaign speeches and presenting platforms to gain support from public as well as fellow LDP lawmakers.
Media surveys showed that the 71-year-old Fukuda has the upper hand both among people and within the party. He has secured support from eight of the nine LDP fractions except for Aso's own. According to the latest survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, 213 LDP lawmakers say they would vote for Fukuda, compared with 45 for Aso.
On Sunday's voting, 387 eligible LDP lawmakers will each cast one ballot, while the 47 prefectural chapters will each give three votes to reflect the choices of rank-and-file members. The candidate who receives over half of the total 528 votes wins. If no one receives more than half of the votes, the lawmakers of the lower and upper houses will vote again to decide a winner.
The Japanese parliament is scheduled to vote for a new prime minister on Tuesday after the current Cabinet resigns en masse.
Analysts believe that the 66-year-old Aso is unlikely to gather enough votes even though he has endeavored to win support from local LDP representatives. Fukuda, in contrast, will probably win an overwhelming victory.
As the LDP controls the House of the Representatives, which has the final say in choosing the prime minister, the winner of LDP presidency practically also captures the premiership of the nation. During the campaign, Fukuda and Aso expressed roughly similar views on domestic policy, but differed in foreign strategies.
The structural reform, pushed by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, has resulted in a widening gap between central and local areas, between different industries and even within the same industry. Both Fukuda and Aso said they would work to eliminate the negative impacts of the reforms, though with different focuses.
Fukuda said he would solve the problems one by one and build a country where the young see hopes and the old feel safe, stressing that reforms cannot be implemented without public confidence. Aso, on the other hand, calls for the importance of helping ailing regional economics and achieving sustainable and steady economic growth.
On foreign policies, Fukuda called for balance between Japan's alliance with the United States and Japan's membership in Asia. He said that the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and the abduction issue should be handled through dialogue. However, Aso holds to continue a tough stance on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) over nuclear and abduction issues.
Fukuda attaches importance to relations with neighboring countries, while Aso pursues reinforcement of ties with countries with similar value systems, analysts said.
Fukuda was chief Cabinet secretary in former Yoshiro Mori and Koziumi's administrations with a combined tenure of three and a half years, the longest among top government spokespersons.
Known for his political and crisis management capabilities, Fukuda is also seen as a strong rival by the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in that his policy platform and personality are comparable to their leader Ichiro Ozawa.
"Both Fukuda and Ozawa give the impression of stable and safe. If Fukuda becomes the new prime minister, it would be more difficult for the DPJ to have the lower house dissolved and a snap election called," a DPJ lawmaker said.