Japanese PM Quits in Shame Over Elections

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TOKYO: Prime Minister Hashimoto may have left the bridge in the middle of a storm, but don't expect Tokyo to pick a strong helmsman to replace him. "Unless Japan's new prime minister is a real surprise rather than any of the likely candidates, we can expect more political chaos and not less," says TIME Tokyo bureau chief Frank Gibney, Jr.

Hashimoto resigned after his party was humiliated at the polls, stalling even the halting steps at economic reform recently launched by Tokyo. "Hashimoto didn't say the policies were flawed or that the LDP was to blame -- he's trying to take the blame for not implementing the reforms quickly and effectively," says Gibney. Hashimoto will stay in office until the LDP appoints a successor. The leading candidate right now is Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, who's known as a consensus builder rather than a Teddy Roosevelt. "The LDP needs a consensus to govern," says Gibney. "The fact that Hashimoto had views of his own had stalled the reform process." Japan's markets initially plummeted on the election results, but the Nikkei closed up 1.68 percent after it became clear that Hashimoto was taking the fall. In the absence of strong leadership, a prime minister who can build a consensus on decisive action remains preferable to the recent paralysis.