Article added on September 1, 2011
Today, Japan's parliament has elected Yoshihiko Noda
(*1957) as the country's seventh prime minister
in only six years. After Junichiro
Koizumi from 2001 to 2006, Japan has seen six other prime ministers from
2006 to 2011:
Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, Yukio Hatoyama,
Naoto Kan and
now Yoshihiko Noda.
Biography of Yoshihiko Noda
Yoshihiko Noda was born in Funabashi, Chiba, to the east of Tokyo, in 1957.
Noda is a graduate of Tokyo's prestigious pro-free-market School of
Political Science and Economics at Waseda University as well as the Matsushita Institute of
Government and Management. Unlike most former prime ministers, Noda does not
hail from a political dynasty. His father served in the Japanese
Self-Defense Forces, as the country's military is known. However, Noda is a
longtime politician who was first elected to the assembly of Chiba
Prefecture in 1987. Six years later, he served his first term in the
national Diet for the now-defunct Japan New Party. As most politicians of
that party, he later joined the Democratic Party (DPJ). After the DPJ won
Noda first served as Japan's vice finance minister before being promoted to
the post of finance minister in June 2010, when his boss, finance minister
Naoto Kan became prime minister.
The DPJ's newest man in power, Yoshihiko Noda, has been described as a calm
politician with experience, a fiscal hawk, a reformer and a member of the
DPJ faction critical of the party's former secretary general Ichiro Ozawa, a
master of dirty politics in the LDP-style; incidentally the “shadow shogun”
Ozawa was once also secretary general of the LDP.
Noda is not untainted. He panders to the
ultra-nationalists in Japan. In 2005 and again on August 15, 2011 he
stated that class-A war criminals convicted by the World War Two Allies and buried at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo had paid
their debts and should no longer be considered war criminals, angering many
in China and South Korea.
When Prime Minister
Naoto Kan announced a new energy policy, breaking with Japan's long
term strategy, Yoshihiko Noda was among the first to challenge the policy
decision. In other matters, including the tackling of the public debt, Noda
has been a strong ally of Kan and has vowed to continue his predecessor's
fiscal conservative agenda.
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The DPJ in power
2009 brought the long needed change: the anomaly of the LDP one-party rule
since 1955 - with only a ten-month break in 1993 - came to an end. Changes
of parties in power are vital for any democracy. It is a pity that none of
the Democratic Party prime ministers could deliver so far.
After not even 15 months with Prime Minister Naoto Kan in power, the Democratic Party
was forced to elect Yoshihiko Noda as its third prime minister since its
landslide win in the
2009 election. Naoto Kan was a
victim of the government's poor handing of the aftermath of the March 11
earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Yukio Hatoyama (*1947) only managed to stay in office from September 16,
2009 to June 8, 2010. Naoto Kan (*1946) followed him with
little success until August 30. Will Yoshihiko Noda await a better destiny?
In the televised internal Democratic Party presidential election, Noda won
the premiership in the second round of voting by the 398 DPJ members of
parliament. In the first round, Trade Minister Banri Kaieda came in first
with 143 votes, ahead of Yoshihiko Noda with 102 votes, former Foreign
Minister Seiji Maehara with 74 votes, former Agricultural Minister Michihiko
Kano with 52 votes and former Transportation and Infrastructure Minister
Sumio Mabuchi with 24 votes.
In the runoff vote, Yoshihiko Noda defeated Banri Kaieda - favored by Ichiro
Ozawa - with 215 to 177 votes.
Because the DPJ holds the absolute majority in the Diet, its candidate was
sure to become Japan's next prime minister.
Japan's financial and economic problems
The Japanese problem is deep rooted. Its public debt amounts to over 200%
of GDP. The Japanese budget deficit may reach 8% to 10% of
GDP in 2011. Furthermore, the country of the rising sun is in a recession: its
economy has been shrinking in the past three quarters. In addition, the
successful export industry is suffering from the strong yen.
The Japanese hold
some 94% of their countries public debt. Therefore, the yield on government debt has
been between 1% and 2%. The day borrowers get worried about Japan's ability
to pay back the debt, the interest rate will skyrocket. Such a shift could
bankrupt the country and wipe out an important part of Japanese savings.
In order to assure his fellow Japanese as well as the
rest of the world of his country's stability, Yoshihiko Noda said on August 29 that he will not call a snap allocation because that could create
a political vacuum. The other half of the truth is that the party is highly
unpopular and would risk to lose its grip on power. Already now, the
opposition controls the upper house of parliament. Divided power makes it
difficult for the DJP to rule. Furthermore, the party itself is divided,
with the Ozawa faction still strong.
Yoshihiko Noda has already announced that he will hold talks with the opposition parties
regarding his plan to double the nation's consumption tax in stages in the
next years from 5% to 10%. In addition, there is the problem of Japanese
deflation, the strong Yen and the aftermath of the tsunami and the following
nuclear disaster to tackle. The government estimates the recovery cost for
the March tsunami and nuclear disaster to reach $169 billion over the next
It remains to be seen whether
will really turn out to be a fiscal hawk. So far, it does not look as if his
government would tackle the problem of the gigantic public debt with a long
term plan. More debt and additional taxes may push Japan even closer to the