What happens next?

Abe has now been replaced by Yasuo Fukuda. Fukuda is unlikely to prove as inept as his predecessor. It remains to been seen, however, whether he faces the same fate in the general election. There are good reasons for not counting him out yet. First, Fukuda has a huge majority in the lower house thanks to former prime minister Koizumi's resounding victory of 2005. This means the opposition will be hard pressed to make up the necessary ground in one electoral cycle. Second, Japanese voters have always been willing to punish the government more harshly in the upper house, suggesting the result may not be repeated when people are voting for government. In both 1989 and 1998, for example, the opposition took control of the upper house through the ballot box, yet in both cases the government survived. The LDP's only loss in the lower house, on the other hand, came about because of a split in the party, rather than a shift in voter sentiment. Finally, Fukuda does not have to call an election until 2009. This gives him time to remake his party's stodgy image and improve its numbers. Indeed, opinion polls taken after his election as leader have already given him a small boost. Still, Fukuda will require all his political nous and famed acerbic wit if he is to succeed. He faces a resurgent opposition that is promising to take a confrontational line using its new power. In doing so, it hopes to force an early general election and double the government's misery. Fukuda faces a choice. To deal with his weakened ability to pass laws through the upper house he can either attempt to get opposition members to cross the floor and join the government, a strategy that has worked before. Alternatively, he can try to persuade the opposition to cooperate in drawing up legislation. For now it appears he has chosen the second strategy. His party has already proposed to cooperate with the opposition parties in drawing up legislation. Yet the opposition are wary of these conciliatory moves, and rightly so. In the past LDP leaders have shown themselves to be adroit at cooperating with other parties while simultaneously sucking the life out of them. The Socialists, for example, who were the major opposition party for most of the postwar period, were virtually destroyed after trading principle for power by joining with the LDP in the 1990s. It is this fear that motivates the response of the DPJ to Fukuda's overtures; they have replied that they look forward to debating policy with the government openly in parliament, rather than behind closed doors. Still, the confrontational parliamentary approach the DPJ are promising has risks of its own. The DPJ has never held power, and they could turn voters off if they are too obstructionist. Their leader, Ichiro Ozawa, although a powerful political figure and policy expert, can also be taciturn, which may not endear him to voters.