TOKYO - Japan's ruling party worked quickly to find a new leader Tuesday after Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda suddenly resigned over a deadlock in parliament with an emboldened opposition that has blocked or stalled virtually all government business over the past year.
The ruling Liberal Democrats were expected to hold a vote for party president on Sept. 22, according to the Kyodo news agency, with campaigning to begin Sept. 10. Party officials were meeting late afternoon Tuesday, and could not confirm the Kyodo report.
The party president is assured of becoming prime minister because of the party's majority with its junior coalition partner in the powerful lower house.
Parliament was to reconvene on Sept. 12 for an extraordinary session, but officials said that was likely to be delayed.
Heading the search — and the shortlist of likely successors — was party Secretary-General Taro Aso, a right-of-center political veteran and former foreign minister.
Although Fukuda had been ineffective against the opposition and hobbled by poor public support ratings, his resignation was a shock to the ruling party. He is the second premier in a row — after the equally unpopular Shinzo Abe — to quit after less than a year in office and before a clear successor had been selected to take over the post.
In his resignation announcement, Fukuda blamed the opposition for putting politics ahead of policy and said that they were impossible for him to work with.
He said he decided to step down in the hope that a new leader could be chosen who would have more luck in dealing with them and getting major bills through.
That seemed like a tall order, however.
Although the ruling Liberal Democrats have dominated Japanese politics for most of the post World War II era, the opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has been making major moves forward and now controls the less-powerful upper house of parliament for the first time.
With voter unease high over the rising price of food and fuel, and a general dissatisfaction with the seeming lack of direction displayed by the Liberal Democrats, the Democrats are calling for snap elections, and many analysts believe they could make big gains.
Such elections do not need to be held until September next year, but can be called at anytime by the prime minister.
"We are going to see snap elections soon, maybe around the end of this year. Holding elections is the only way to bring about a breakthrough for the political deadlock," said Hiroshi Kawahara, political science professor at Waseda University.
Kawahara said the elections would likely help the opposition.
"If snap elections take place, it will be a great chance for the DPJ to grab power," he said. "The DPJ may even win votes from LDP supporters, as many voters are very fed up with the LDP's dismal performance."
The Liberal Democrats, fearing losses at the polls, had tried desperately to turn things around under Fukuda, who just last week announced a stimulus package with $18 billion in new spending to buoy the economy. Just several weeks ago he reshuffled his Cabinet in an unsuccessful attempt to renew public faith in his government.
Fukuda apparently believed the situation would get only worse under his leadership, but his sudden decision to throw in the towel was also widely panned.
"This is such irresponsible politics," the Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial. "It is abnormal that two prime ministers in a row quit after a short period of time, and it's hurting national interests."