The Democratic Party of Japan swept to power in 2009 on a promise of change.
The party has made good on that promise, in a sense.
It keeps changing prime ministers. Monday, it chose its third prime minister in two years. his name is Yoshihiko Noda.
Noda faces the same problems that sent his predecessor’s approval ratings below 20 percent. They include the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in March and a stagnant economy.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to Michael Cucek, a research associate with the MIT Center for International Scientists based in Tokyo, about Japan’s newest prime minister.
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Marco Werman: The democratic party of Japan swept to power in 2009, on a promise of change. The party has made good on that promise in a sense — it keeps changing prime ministers. Today, it shows its third in two years. He is Yoshihiko Noda. Noda faces the same problems that sent his predecessor’s approval ratings to below 20%; they include the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in March and the stagnant economy. Michael Cucek is a research associate with the MIT Center for International Studies based in Tokyo. So, Yoshihiko Noda, we know he’s 54 years old. He was the finance minister under now resigned prime minister Naoto Kan. Michael, who is he and is he what Japan needs right now?
Michael Cucek: Yoshikio Noda is an interesting story in that he is the first post war prime minister to be born in poverty. He has ideas about thrift, debt, about closing Japan’s deficit that really resonate with his own personal history of not having any money.
Werman: What about as a politician, I mean Japan faces these enormous physical and infrastructural challenges from cleanup from the tsunami, cleanup in stabilizing the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Can Noda, prime minister Noda steer away from the politics and get the central government to simply help the victims, which seems to be something that his predecessor, the Kan was unable to do.
Cucek: The government of Japan is divided. The house of representatives is in the hands of the democratic party of Japan, and then house of councillors, the upper class, is in the hands of the liberal democratic party. The two parties hate each other with a passion. And this stalemate has kept Japan from moving on long term issues, most certainly, but even on pressing issues of reconstructing the northeast. This is unconscionable that they were not able to get their acts together, but this is indeed what happened and it’s what shortened the tenure of Naoto Kan.
Werman: So what do you think? Can Prime Minister Noda help the country and not be kind of held captive at the same time by these kind of old political games and rivalries?
Cucek: Noda has said that he will go to the opposition and ask them for their cooperation, even if he has to go 101 times. He is therefore determined to somehow come to a collaborative situation with opposition parties so that needed legislation can pass through both houses of the Diet and become law.
Werman: Finally, Michael, a lot of reports today seem to be making a lot out of Mr. Noda’s self effacing attitude. He says he’s unattractive and resembles a loach, which prompted me to get out my dictionary and learn that a loach is a freshwater eel. In Japanese politics though is it a good thing to have a man who is unassuming like that? Will it serve him well and last him in the premiership longer than a year?
Cucek: In the past that certainly would’ve been a very good trait to have. He is probably one of the finest speakers, and if he can use that in talking to the people then there’s a good chance he can get things moving. If however, he is more involved in wheeling and dealing with the opposition parties in order to pass specific legislation, his tenure in office will be as brief as his predecessor’s…or even shorter.
Werman: Michael Cucek is with the MIT Center for International Studies in Tokyo. He also writes a blog on Japanese politics and society.
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