Yet Another Japanese Prime Minister Bites the Dust

Fukuda cited his inability to realize his goals as one reason for his departure, saying he had always been aware of the wishes of the people, which could mean either that he had tried to do what the people wanted (sort of true) or that he was leaving because that was what the people so obviously wanted.

Fukuda will almost certainly be succeeded by current LDP Secretary General and former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who ran against him for the party presidency about this time last year and against Abe about this time the year before that.

Aso is going to have his work cut out for him.  By law, a general election can occur no later than September 2009 -- four years after the last general election returned Koizumi to power and gave his reformist wing of the LDP a boost.

A lot has changed since then.  Koizumi's young reformers have largely faded into the background, a gas tax earmarked for road construction -- the 34-year-old backbone of the LDP old guard's system of machine politics -- was renewed, and, perhaps most significant of all, Taro Aso is set to become prime minister, a prospect that would have caused most political observers to chuckle just two years ago.

Japan might also be slipping back into its age-old system of giving old, well-known pols turns in the big chair for a year or so.  Koizumi's five years at the top were the exception, not the rule.  (Here's a list of all of Japan's PMs and their dates in office.)

And that might be the big lesson to take away -- new prime minister, a powerful opposition, but the same old politics in terms of results.  Nancy Pelosi just paid Japan a visit to join Ambassador Thomas Schieffer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in asking Japan to renew its commitment of personnel to the ISAF effort in Afghanistan (and its hefty financial contributions).  It might be an ugly drawn-out fight again, but the bill will pass, as will most of the other contentious bits of the status quo.

Anyone hoping for real change in Japanese politics will have to set his sights on the general election and hope for a big upset.

For those who prefer their politics to be entertaining, you're in for a treat -- Taro Aso is a riot.