Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Prime Ministers Wrap-up

Heir Made Apparent

President Putin of Russia fired his Prime Minister today. Mikhail Fradkov had been in power since 2004, but will now be replaced by Victor Zubkov (seen on the right), the obscure director of some sort of anti-corruption department. The move has been analyzed as Putin's last-minute attempt to groom an hier. Presidential elections are scheduled for this coming March, but Putin has so far declined to endorse any of the declared candidates.

The Prime Minister's office is a natural stepping stone to the presidency. If Mr. Putin resigns before his term ends, Prime Minister Zubkov will automatically become president. Being the incumbent president as well as Mr. Putin's choice will make him virtually unbeatable in a popular election. Putin, a former prime minster, was himself catapulted to power through the exact same process, back when Boris Yeltsin resigned prematurely in 1999.

No one really knows who Mr. Zubkov is, which will likely have all the world's intelligence departments scrambling to do research in the next couple of days. The main thing we know is that he's a loyal friend of Putin's from way back, which brings with it obvious conclusions.

The Russian Prime Ministership is not a strong post, and the men who hold the office are appointed by the president to help guide his legislative agenda through the parliament. Rather akin to the Prime Minister of France. Putin was much better at managing his PMs than Boris Yeltsin. In his 1999 to 2007 term, Mr. Zubkov will be only Putin's fourth. Mr. Yeltsin went through nine, including a botched attempt to appoint himself PM.


Japan Resumes Proud Tradition of Instability

Junichiro Koizumi was Prime Minister of Japan from 2001 to 2006. He was popular and charismatic, and was re-elected a couple of times, staying in power for a total of five-and-a-half years. The longest-serving Prime Minister since Eisaku Sato, who ruled for seven years from 1964 to 1972.

The cutthroat nature of Japanese party politics, coupled with the culturally-ingrained Japanese impulse to resign whenever anything goes wrong, has ensured that Japanese PMs tend to have very brief shelf lives, as I have chronicled on this chart here: http://www.filibustercartoons.com/japan.htm

As you can see, there have been 25 in all since 1948, with 10 of those serving a year or less.

When Koizumi resigned last year, the all-powerful and always-in-power Japanese Liberal Party appointed cabinet minister Shinzo Abe to replace him.

Japanese prime ministers are not extremely powerful figures- a deliberate result of Japan's anti-authoritarian post-war constitution. More than anything else, they act as a voice and a face for the government-of-the-day. That's why Koizumi-san was so popular, he was a great communicator and a lovable man.

True power in Japan lies with the party bosses. Even though the Liberals have been in power more or less continually for the last five decades, their vast party is a mess of competing factions and interests, and any PM has to walk a delicate line to appease them all. They all make their conflicting demands, and the prime minister can either formulate some compromise, or get non-confidence voted out of power and give someone else a shot.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago there were elections for the Japanese Senate, and the Japanese Liberal Party lost its majority there in a stunning upset. This was of course shameful for Abe-san, so people called on him to resign.

And yesterday he announced that he would. Almost exactly one year in power. The Liberals will now have to scramble and find someone else for the job, though when precisely the transition will take place is not currently known.

Other Prime Minister Dies

A while ago I mentioned that John Compton, the Prime Minister of Saint Luca, had a stroke, and was incapacitated. Well he sadly passed away earlier this week. The Governor-General promoted Stephenson King, who had been running the small Caribbean county as acting prime minister since May, to full prime minister.

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