TOKYO – Japan’s chronically unpopular prime minister abruptly resigned Monday after a yearlong struggle with a deadlocked parliament, leaving the weakened ruling party to grapple with a stalled economy and rising calls for snap elections.
The resignation of Yasuo Fukuda, 72, deepened a two-year stretch of political instability at the helm of the world’s second-largest economy. It came only days after the government announced a stimulus package to counter flagging consumer spending.
Fukuda, who took office just under a year ago, said he was clearing the decks for a more popular successor to take over ahead of a tough special session in the parliament, where the ruling party controls the lower house and the opposition dominates the upper.
“We still have time before discussion of key policies starts in the upcoming parliamentary session, and this is the perfect timing not to cause people too much trouble,” Fukuda said, explaining that he was exiting to avoid a “political vacuum.”
Fukuda suffered throughout his term from anemic public backing – the latest poll showed him with only 29 percent support – and repeated embarrassment at the hands of the obstructionist opposition in parliament.
The resignation announcement came a month after Fukuda installed his most widely expected successor, former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, in a Cabinet shake-up aimed at boosting support for the government. Aso, who lost against Fukuda in the race for premier last year, has not said whether he would run again.