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Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Fukuda set for longevity record
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda on Tuesday will tie the record as the longest-serving official to work as a prime minister's right-hand man.
On Wednesday, he will break the record of Shigeru Hori, who held the post for 1,258 days while working for the Cabinets of the late Prime Ministers Shigeru Yoshida and Eisaku Sato.
Fukuda, 67, was appointed to the position in December 2000 by then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, succeeding Hidenao Nakagawa, who stepped down amid a scandal involving his alleged relationship with a woman suspected of using illegal drugs.
Since then, the House of Representatives member has survived four Cabinet reshuffles, including the one that gave birth to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in April 2001.
"He is an indispensable man," Koizumi told reporters when asked to comment on Fukuda. "He works so hard that it helps me a lot."
But Koizumi declined to comment when asked if he would retain Fukuda in the post after the House of Councilors election this summer, when the prime minister is expected to again reshuffle his Cabinet.
Political commentator Minoru Morita said Fukuda has survived not because he has extraordinary competence, but because he doesn't have any conspicuous shortcomings.
"He has few weak points," he said. "He doesn't give himself away."
Morita said the fact that he is the son of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, founder of the current Mori faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, has helped him remain in the post under both the Mori and Koizumi Cabinets. Koizumi belonged to the Mori faction until he became prime minister.
Political insiders say Fukuda's clout within the Cabinet secretariat increased after popular LDP lawmaker Shinzo Abe and heavyweight bureaucrat Teijiro Furukawa left their positions of deputy chief Cabinet secretaries in September.
Morita said that Fukuda effectively plays the role of a foreign minister, overshadowing Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who lacks a Diet seat and is said to have little influence over lawmakers.
"Fukuda has given advice to Foreign Ministry officials and has become something of a leader for them," he said.