Japan: Business as Usual for Liberal Democrats

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Say what you like about Keizo Obuchi, Japan's next prime minister -- that he's too bland, a party apparatchik, doesn't have a bold thought in his head -- but he scores points for mastering the Japanese art of modesty. "Though my ability is limited, I will do my best for the sake of the party and the nation to overcome the difficult situation," said Obuchi following his comfortable 225-vote victory in the ruling Liberal Democrat Party leadership elections Friday. Portents of apocalypse from the anyone-but-Obuchi camp proved to be groundless: The Nikkei rose 1.1 percent, the yen jumped against the dollar, and rumors of LDP revolt failed to materialize.

Which doesn't mean everything's peachy. "The opposition and the public won't like this," says TIME's Tokyo bureau chief Frank Gibney Jr. "The vote confirms fears that there's no sense of urgency within the LDP." And Obuchi, who walked into politics four decades ago by effectively inheriting his father's seat, has some way to go to prove he's not out of touch. The $42.7 billion tax-cut plan he's been airing in the last few days should help at home; whether foreign investors will be convinced is another matter. Obuchi must raise confidence enough to prevent Japan's borrowing rating from being downgraded. That's no small task. Still, the man who once described himself as a "small noodle shop" next to his towering political rivals is walking tall now -- and may yet prove equal to the challenge.