Aso readies to take charge of Japan

September 24, 2008 12:00 am

, TOKYO, September 24 – Taro Aso prepared to take over as Japan’s new prime minister Wednesday, lining up his cabinet with like-minded conservatives to help his mission to revive the economy and win upcoming elections.

The flamboyant former foreign minister was to be installed by a parliament session opening at 1:00 pm (0400 GMT), and was expected quickly afterwards to fly to New York for the UN General Assembly.

"When I look at the financial situation and other things, I feel like we’re in a turbulent period — not in peacetime," he told reporters as he headed to parliament, referring to the crisis over bad debts hitting global markets.

And he added: "Frankly speaking, I am once again feeling the gravity of my responsibilities."

Outgoing prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, a mild centrist whose ratings dived after he raised medical costs for the elderly, formally resigned together with his cabinet to make way for Aso.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) picked Aso on Monday as its new leader by an overwhelming majority, placing its trust in a crowd-pleasing — though gaffe-prone — campaigner.

Analysts expect him to call a general election for as early as late October in a bid to hold off gains by the rising opposition, which has pounded away at the LDP’s traditional strongholds in the countryside.

The LDP has been in power for all but 10 months since 1955, but Aso will be its fourth prime minister in the past two years as the party struggles over a raft of scandals and, more recently, a faltering economy.

Aso said his first priority would be to pump stimulative spending into the economy, the world’s second largest but teetering on the brink of recession, clashing with traditional LDP free-market reformists who want action to tame a ballooning public debt.

Speaking at a meeting Tuesday with the LDP’s coalition partner New Komeito, Aso said the two parties "have been working together tackling difficulties for the sake of the stability and prosperity of Japan."

"I am determined to devote myself for the people of Japan," Aso said.

Aso, whose family has been involved in politics for generations, was likely to tap like-minded conservatives to key cabinet posts, media reports said.

Major newspapers said the foreign minister would be Fumihiro Nakasone, the son of one of Japan’s best-known premiers, Yasuhiro Nakasone, a conservative who led Japan in the 1980s and was a close ally in US president Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist campaign.

The younger Nakasone has served as science and education minister, during which he paid the first visit by someone in the post to South Korea, where many people resent how Japan teaches its past colonial history.

Like Aso, Nakasone was uneasy with some of the free-market reforms during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi, who was popular with the public but blamed by some LDP members for alienating rural voters by cutting services.

Reports said the defence ministry post would go to Yasukazu Hamada, who is known for his strong support of the military alliance with the United States.

The finance ministry was expected to go to Shoichi Nakagawa, an outspoken nationalist who was shunned by the more dovish Fukuda.

Nakagawa, a former industry minister known to enjoy a drink, has raised controversy through strong criticism of China and his calls for Japan, the only nation to have suffered atomic attack, to study developing nuclear weapons.

Aso promises a return both at home and abroad to some of the more flamboyant ways of Koizumi, who would regale summits by singing Elvis Presley songs, after a two-year gap of drier leaders.

Known for his love of comic books, as foreign minister he has entertained summits by doing a Humphrey Bogart impersonation and dancing in the costume of a samurai.



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