TOKYO (AFP) — Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his sudden resignation Monday, calling for a fresh start after a troubled year in power that saw bitter fighting with the opposition.
The surprise announcement came after the 72-year-old political moderate failed to turn around dwindling public support for his government despite reshuffling his cabinet and unveiling a major economic stimulus package.
"Today, I have decided to resign. We need a new line-up to cope with a new session of parliament," Fukuda told a hastily arranged news conference.
"I have determined that now is the most opportune time, in which we will not create a political void," he said.
"I thought it would be quite different if somebody new would take care of this."
Fukuda said his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would hold an internal election to determine his successor. He did not call a general election, which does not need to be held for another year.
The likely front-runner to take over the post is Taro Aso, a former foreign minister who is known for being both more charismatic and more conservative than Fukuda.
Fukuda is known for his moderate policies including his efforts to repair historically uneasy relations with China. But he has openly admitted that he lacks charisma, and polls show voters faulting him for lacking leadership.
Fukuda said he made the decision in light of the tense situation in parliament. The opposition Democratic Party won control of one house last year and has aggressively fought Fukuda's agenda.
"The Democratic Party has tried to stall every bill so it has taken a long time to implement any policies. For the sake of the Japanese people, this should not be repeated," Fukuda said.
Fukuda's LDP has been in power for all but 10 months since its creation in 1955.
The opposition has vowed to wrest political control in the next election.
Earlier Monday, main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa vowed to oust the LDP from government "as soon as possible."
Fukuda was bracing for another showdown with the opposition in parliament in the next session, which opens on September 12.
The opposition last year forced a brief halt to Japan's mission in the Indian Ocean supporting the US-led "war on terror" in Afghanistan.
Another fight is expected during this session over whether to extend the mission for another year.
Fukuda took office nearly a year ago in hopes of reviving the LDP, but he faced an uproar for introducing a hugely unpopular medical coverage plan that raises costs for many elderly people.
On Friday, he unveiled a 11.7-trillion-yen (107-billion-dollar) stimulus package, although some experts doubted it would give a long-term boost to the economy.
A poll out earlier Monday said that his government's approval rating had slumped nine points in the past month to 29 percent, erasing most of the bounce he received from reshuffling his cabinet a month ago.
The poll tipped Aso as the most popular candidate to replace Fukuda.
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