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Japan PM launches new cabinet, job still at risk PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 August 2008

Tokyo, Aug. 2 ( - Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda launched his new cabinet on Saturday after a reshuffle aimed at boosting his soggy ratings with voters, but domestic media said the unpopular leader was still at risk of losing his job.

Fukuda tapped a popular rival, former foreign minister Taro Aso, for a key ruling party post and drafted a mix of veterans and fresh faces to put his stamp on policy amid worries about a slowing economy and the growing costs of an ageing population.

But it was unclear whether the personnel revamp would give much of a boost to Fukuda's support rates, recently languishing around 25 percent, given doubts about his leadership.

The leader faces a divided parliament, where feisty opposition parties can stall laws and are keen to force a snap poll for the lower house.

"If the cabinet's support rates remain low, there is a possibility that moves to oust Fukuda will become public due to anxiety about fighting an election with him as the campaign poster boy," said an editorial in the Mainichi newspaper.

"That is why some think that the appointment of Aso is a strategic step toward replacing Fukuda ahead of the election."

No lower house election need be held until September 2009, but speculation is simmering that Fukuda, or his successor, may call a snap poll to seek a mandate to break the deadlock that has stymied policy since the opposition won control of parliament's upper house a year ago.

Aso, an outspoken security hawk whose fondness for manga comics and boisterous charm make him a rarity among Japan's more staid politicians, has made no secret of wanting to be premier.

On Saturday, though, he stressed he was backing Fukuda.

"I will support the Fukuda cabinet and put in my best effort," he told private broadcaster TV Tokyo.


Fukuda hopes that drafting Aso for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's No. 2 post of secretary-general will both boost the party's standings with voters and make it harder for Aso to make a run for the top post, analysts and media said.

Some analysts said joining forces with Fukuda would tie Aso's hands, but others suggested it could instead better his chances if the prime minister faltered, a view echoed by Japanese media.

"For Aso, cooperating with Fukuda is a risk. If they lose the election, he will go down with Fukuda," said the Nikkei business daily in an editorial. "But if Fukuda steps down before the election, there will be a chance for Aso to take the reins."

Asked about a possible future candidacy, Aso on Saturday acknowledged that taking the LDP post could improve his chances.

But he added that he, too, was taking a gamble.

"It could also backfire, and that cannot be helped. That is a matter of chance," Aso told TV Tokyo.

The 72-year-old Fukuda and Aso, 67, both hail from political families, but are in many other ways a study in contrasts.

Fukuda, a bland, old-style politician who appears ill at ease before TV cameras, is a moderate conservative who favours warmer ties with Asian neighbours such as China and South Korea.

Aso, a popular guest on TV talk shows, is a nationalist who has upset Asian neighbours with past remarks, including comments in 2003 that were seen as praising Japan's 1919-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

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