Japan's new prime minister, Taro Aso, appointed several outspoken nationalist allies to his Cabinet Wednesday, while keeping a fiscal reformer for a key post.
Aso, an advocate of spending and tax cuts to boost the economy and expected to call a snap election soon, was confirmed as prime minister by parliament's lower house to take over from Yasuo Fukuda, who quit suddenly this month.
A former foreign minister and a manga comic book fan with a propensity for verbal gaffes, Aso confronts an economy teetering on the brink of recession and facing fall-out from the US financial crisis as he takes up the leadership.
"I am strongly aware of the people's anxiety about the economy and their livelihoods, and their mistrust of politics," Aso told a news conference after announcing his Cabinet line up.
"It is my mission to make Japan a country that is cheerful and strong."
Aso, a Catholic, comes from a wealthy family but has a down-home touch that helps him work crowds.
Media and analysts expect him to call a snap poll for parliament's powerful lower house to take advantage of a hoped-for rise in public support after trying to enact a planned emergency economic package.
Cabinet takes shape
Aso tapped former trade minister Nakagawa to hold two key portfolios - finance and financial services - and kept Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano, a fiscal conservative who was runner up in the race to be prime minister.
"Yosano seems to be remaining in the cabinet, so a certain level of fiscal discipline will be retained, but you can't avoid the impression that reform drives are weakening," said Takumi Tsunoda, a senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank.
Aso said yesterday that a target of balancing the budget by 2012 was important, but added the economy had worsened since that goal had been set.
Upper house lawmaker Hirofumi Nakasone, 62, a former education minister and son of ex-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, was appointed foreign minister.
Conservative allies including Nariaki Nakayama, who heads a group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers that denounced the 1937 Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication, also clinched a post.
Some analysts said the Cabinet was designed to put the spotlight on Aso as a strong leader, though the inclusion of right-leaning lawmakers could worry overseas observers.
Republic of Korea's President Lee Myung-bak said Seoul and Tokyo should move relations forward.
"Developing ties in a future-oriented direction with a square view of history is necessary for the stability and prosperity not only of the two countries but of Northeast Asia," the presidential Blue House said in a statement congratulating Aso.
In a move that could appeal to voters, Aso named 34-year-old Yuko Obuchi, daughter of a former prime minister and mother of a one-year-old boy, to promote policies to boost Japan's low birth rate, making her the youngest Japanese minister in modern times.
Aso said that he wanted to pass an extra budget to help consumers and firms cope with high prices, and media predict he could call an election after that for Nov 2 or Nov 9.
The ruling coalition has a huge majority in the lower house, but policies have been stalled since the opposition won control of the upper house last year.
The deadlock, and a string of scandals, slashed support for the two previous prime ministers, leading them to quit abruptly.