Monday, September 22, 2008

Um, Taro Aso is PM of Japan?

Well, this is a worrying development:

Japan's ruling party today elected the colourful rightwinger Taro Aso as its leader in a last-ditch attempt to boost its flagging popularity ahead of a general election that may be only weeks away.

Aso, 68, comfortably fought off four challengers for the Liberal Democratic party (LDP) presidency and is practically assured of being appointed prime minister by the LDP-dominated lower house on Wednesday.

"Standing here, I feel that this is Taro Aso's destiny," Aso, the grandson of the former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, said in a brief acceptance speech.

"Who else but our party has the policies that address the public's concerns? I am committed to winning the election and taking a further step towards economic recovery and reform."

His widely expected victory comes as Japan teeters on the brink of recession and his party confronts one of its biggest electoral challenges in more than 50 years.

The LDP, which has governed Japan for all but 10 months since its formation in 1955, is floundering in the polls amid mounting public anger over health care reforms, millions of missing pensions premiums and the possibility of another economic downturn.

Aso has promised a return to fiscal pump priming in an attempt to steer Japan away from recession, breaking with the free-market reforms begun seven years ago by Junichiro Koizumi.

Aso, who advocates lower taxes for businesses, hinted that Japan may have to abandon its goal of balancing its budget by 2012.

He must also confront deep divisions in parliament that have enabled the main opposition party, the Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), to block key legislation in the upper house, including the extension of a vessel refuelling mission in support of US-led forces in Afghanistan.

Aso dismissed media reports that he would call an election for the end of next month before he has pushed an emergency economic stimulus package through parliament.

Though an election isn't due until next September, Aso is expected to go to the country soon in the hope of capitalising on an expected boost in his personal approval ratings following today's victory.

Senior opposition figures challenged Aso to call an immediate dissolution of parliament.

"If he wants to be prime minister, he should wait until voters decide who should lead the country in the general elections," said the DPJ's Naoto Kan.

Analysts speculated that even Aso, with his inimitable brand of conservative populism, would be unable to save his party from defeat.

"He has to face an election right away, and it will be hard for him to survive it," said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "I think there is a strong possibility that he won't."

This would be roughly comparable to electing Goldwater after all. Aso isn't exactly the Japanese elites.

But it seems like he's just trying to hold off Ichiro Ozawa's DPJ (the more progressive party) from absolutely steamrolling them in an upcoming election. Considering the Japanese people just seem sick of this bunch, and have already delivered the Upper House to them, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Aso failed and Ozawa finally became PM, as he wanted to do ever since he himself was part of the LDP.

(If Aso does win, though, expect an awful lot more manga on store shelves. He's mad for the stuff.)

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