Aso takes charge of Japan
Thursday, 25 September 2008

AFP, TOKYO - Taro Aso took charge 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 divided parliament voted along party lines to install the flamboyant former foreign minister, who was expected to fly a day later to New York for the UN General Assembly.
 
Aso bowed four times and shook hands with fellow lawmakers after the more powerful lower house approved him.
 
"I truly feel the heavy responsibility of being prime minister," Aso told a news conference as he announced his cabinet.
 
"To make Japan a bright and strong nation -- that is my mission," he said.
 
Aso replaced Yasuo Fukuda, a mild centrist whose ratings dived after he raised medical costs for the elderly.
 
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 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 final battle has begun. The autumn of elections -- the autumn to change the government -- is coming," said opposition chief Ichiro Ozawa, whose bloc controls one house of parliament.
 
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.
 
Aso tapped 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."
 
The foreign ministry went to Hirofumi Nakasone, the son of one of Japan's best-known premiers, Yasuhiro Nakasone, 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 kept 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 made 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.

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