Wed, September 24, 2008
World > Asia-Pacific

Japan parliament votes for Aso as prime minister

2008-09-24 10:59:13 GMT2008-09-24 18:59:13 (Beijing Time) China Daily

Newly elected ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader Taro Aso (centre) at a party convention in Tokyo on September 23. Aso is preparing to take over as Japan's new prime minister, lining up his cabinet with like-minded conservatives to help his mission to revive the economy and win upcoming elections. [Agencies]

TOKYO - Japan's parliament on Wednesday voted for Taro Aso to be the next prime minister, the speaker announced.

Aso, a conservative former foreign minister, bowed four times and shook hands with fellow lawmakers after lower house speaker Yohei Kono announced the results of the vote.

In a largely party-line vote, 337 lawmakers voted for Aso, the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and 117 picked chief opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, Kono said.

Taro Aso has lined up his cabinet with like-minded conservatives to help his mission to revive the economy and win upcoming elections.

The new premier is set to fly to New York on Thursday 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.

"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 LDP free-market reformists who in recent years have pushed to tame a ballooning public debt.

Newspapers said Aso would tap as his finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa who, echoing the incoming premier, said he would make "full use of all sorts of policies" to invigorate the economy.

"Some people label us as freespenders or old-guard cronies as we say we are not hesitant on fiscal spending," Nakagawa, a former industry minister, wrote in a newspaper column. "But we do not intend to backtrack on reforms."

Nakagawa -- who was shunned by the more dovish Fukuda -- has raised controversy through strong criticism of China and calls for Japan, the only nation to have suffered atomic attack, to study developing nuclear weapons.

"This is the lineup aimed at avoiding any political scandals ahead of the imminent general elections," said Shujiro Kato, professor of politics at Toyo University.

"Nobody reported to be appointed as minister is a fresh face."

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.

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.

However, in a bid to ensure party unity, Aso was expected to keep in place Fiscal and Economic Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano, who had challenged him for the top job arguing that Aso's economic policies were irresponsible.

Another rival, Shigeru Ishiba, was tipped to be farm minister, a position that has frequently been hit by scandal. Ishiba survived resignation calls as he managed crises as Fukuda's defence minister.

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 Aso entertained summits by doing a Humphrey Bogart impersonation and dancing in the costume of a samurai.

(Agencies)

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