Who will be Japan’s next leader?

There is much gossip in Tokyo about who will be the next prime minister.

The current leader, Shinzo Abe, recently made an apology on national television, bowing deeply before the cameras in a sign of remorse following a series of scandals.
However, he continues to cling to power, despite dwindling support among the members of his party.
Mr Abe’s government has been beset by corruption allegations and he has been accused of cronyism towards his friends. His response – along with the television apology – was to reshuffle his cabinet. That will not prevent his rivals from plotting against him.

The two greatest promises he made – to return Japan to a normal rate of economic growth and to end the cycle of deflation – have not yet been demonstrably achieved.

A vociferous media holds the politicians to account and conducts regular opinion polls to check their popularity.

These suggest that Mr Abe’s popularity sunk very low before his apology. He might have resigned, were it not for the fact that the leader of the main opposition party, known as Renho, was also unpopular, according to the polls.

Renho, who generally goes by only one name, became the first woman in two decades to lead a major political party in Japan when she took the helm of the Democratic Party last September.

But she didn’t communicate well through the media, which kept running stories about her status as a Japanese citizen and her links to Taiwan.

As leader of the Democratic Party, her chances of beating the LDP in a general election were always slim. The LDP has been in power almost without interruption since 1955. Yet it is split into many factions and anyone who plans to lead it must keep them satisfied, which is why Japanese politics can seem very murky and remote to the average voter. Some experts believe that the Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has enough support to topple Mr Abe.

Jake Adelstein wrote on the Daily Beast that Mr Aso is similar to Donald Trump because he’s wealthy and prone to making outrageous comments, such as a suggestion that Japan could learn constitutional reform from Nazi Germany.

Another possibility is that a defector from the LDP, Yuriko Koike, becomes a candidate to become Japan’s first female prime minister.

She did well in recent elections in Tokyo but she said she does not want to return to national politics. If she does so, she’ll be up against many of her former colleagues and allies, who put the perseveration of the LDP’s long reign of power at the top of their political agenda.

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