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2008年9月23日 (火)


(Sep. 23, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun

Aso must speak out, seize political spotlight

麻生自民党総裁 「何をなすか」明確に発信せよ(923日付・読売社説)

Now is a critical time for the Liberal Democratic Party. Taro Aso, the newly elected party president, needs to get serious and face up to important issues in a speedy and bold manner.


Aso scored an overwhelming victory in Monday's party leadership election to become the 23rd LDP president, defeating four other candidates--Kaoru Yosano, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy; Yuriko Koike, former defense minister; Nobuteru Ishihara, former chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council; and Shigeru Ishiba, former defense minister.


Aso is set to be named prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session that convenes Wednesday.



Aso's grandfather is Shigeru Yoshida, who served as prime minister for a number of years just after World War II.


The prime minister's post has most recently been held by scions of political dynasties, Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, both of whom abruptly resigned. Aso needs to demonstrate his strong sense of responsibility and staying power.


Why did Aso defeat the other four candidates by such a big margin?


This was the fourth time for Aso to run for party president. Having his own small faction as a stronghold, Aso gained support from members of all of the party's factions as he went through three campaigns for the party's top post since 2006.


His upbeat and unique character attracted popular support. In recent opinion polls, Aso was ranked as the person most suitable for the prime minister's post.


Party members are pinning their hopes on Aso as the face of the party with the dissolution of the House of Representatives and a general election expected soon.


Unlike Fukuda, who lacked the ability to convey strong messages, Aso was evaluated highly for his communication skills.


Many LDP Diet members and local chapter representatives decided to support Aso in hopes of being on the winning side. As the cases of Abe and Fukuda showed, however, an overwhelming victory in a party race does not necessarily mean the winner can expect stable support from party members.



Face of party

In appointing four main party executives, Aso retained incumbents in three of the four posts. For the post of party secretary general that he previously occupied, Aso picked Hiroyuki Hosoda, acting secretary general of the party. By retaining the previous executive lineup, Aso appears to be trying to ensure a smooth transition.


Having elected Aso as party president, LDP lawmakers have a responsibility to support the new leader by building party unity.


The relationship with the LDP's junior coalition partner New Komeito is also important. The ruling parties' relationship soured in the final days of the Fukuda administration over such issues as a bill to revise the new Antiterrorism Law to allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and envisaged fixed-sum tax breaks.


It is necessary to strengthen the relationship with New Komeito to foster cooperation in the next lower house election. Reconfirming the two parties' ties is an urgent task for Aso.



Aso faces mounting problems. In the midst of the LDP presidential election, U.S. financial giant Lehman Brothers Inc. failed and stock prices violently fluctuated worldwide. Uncertainty over the economy has been growing due to commodity price hikes pushed by surging prices for raw materials.


There were news reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was facing health problems. Ahead of the news, North Korea halted its denuclearization process, which had been based on agreements reached in the six-party talks. It also postponed a reinvestigation into the abduction of Japanese nationals to North Korea by its agents.


The problem of illegal trade in agricultural chemical- and mold-tainted rice has expanded and developed to the point that the agriculture minister and the administrative vice farm minister resigned.


All of these are serious problems.



Political priorities

Aso, after he is named prime minister on Wednesday, has to pick people who are trustworthy and immediately respond to such difficult issues in forming his cabinet.


Yet, to fulfill his responsibility as LDP president, Aso's most basic task is to lead the LDP to victory over Ichiro Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan in the next lower house election.


Aso had been labeling the LDP presidential race as an election to choose a "warrior" to face off against Ozawa. Immediately after he was elected the new LDP head, he emphasized, "I'll be able to say I fulfilled my destiny when we win in the next [lower house] election."



The lower house election, termed the Aso vs Ozawa election, will be a battle to determine the next ruling party. It will be fought on the basis of which party's policies are real and which are false.


In the LDP presidential race the five candidates debated various issues, which in some ways served as preparation for policy debate with the DPJ in the election.


However, there are quite a few issues that were not satisfactorily discussed.


For instance, how should the government fund its plan to take on a greater portion of the burden of paying basic pension benefits from fiscal 2009?


Raising the consumption tax rate may not be possible for the next fiscal year, but is it acceptable for the ruling party not to discuss the issue at all for now?


Doesn't the LDP have to show at least a blueprint for drastic reform of the pension, health care and nursing care systems to cope with the declining birth rate, graying society and declining population?


What should be done to pass a bill to revise the new Antiterrorism Law to fulfill Japan's responsibility to the international community?


As LDP president, Aso must provide a concrete and comprehensible answer for each of these questions.


Aso's unique characteristics will not shine if he repeats mealy-mouthed remarks out of an excessive fear of being nailed down on undesirable pledges.


As a national leader he needs to elucidate his policy goals and explain how he will achieve them.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 23, 2008)

20089230154  読売新聞)


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