Former foreign minister expected to win Japan's PM slot

Other News Materials 24 September 2008 12:18 (UTC +04:00)

Japan's Parliament was expected on Wednesday to appoint Taro Aso, an outspoken politician and a former foreign minister, as the country's next prime minister. Taro Aso is poised to be Japan's next PM, reported CNN.

Aso handily won a vote in the more powerful lower house of parliament, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds the majority, while the upper house voted in favor of opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Under Japan's constitution, though, the lower house overrules the upper one when the two cannot reach consensus.

A meeting between representatives from the two bodies was expected later in the day, and then Aso will officially become the prime minister.

Aso, 68, succeeds Yasuo Fukuda, who resigned amid plummeting approval ratings after less than a year in office. Fukuda and his Cabinet stepped down ahead of Wednesday's vote.

The new prime minister will inherit an office that is expected to tackle several pressing challenges immediately.

Foremost among them is the country's sagging economy. Aso advocates an increase in public spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

The LDP also was expected to call a snap election as early as next month in hopes that Aso's name-recognition will help the ruling party retain control of Parliament.

But the tactic can backfire, analysts say. The LDP is in the midst of a political crisis. The last two prime ministers, both from the party, resigned after less than a year in office.

Because of the turmoil within the LDP, the opposition-Democratic Party of Japan senses a shift in political tides. A snap election could see a turn in political power in Parliament, after nearly half a century of continuous control by the LDP.

Aso, a former Olympic sharpshooter, is a Catholic in a country where only 1 percent of the population is of that faith. And he is also known for his verbal gaffes. He recently likened the opposition party to the Nazis.

Fukuda's popularity plummeted after he introduced a medical plan that raises premiums for people over age 75 and deducts health-care expenses from pension payments.

The government has said the plan is unavoidable in a country with one of the world's largest aging populations. Opposition parties have criticized it for its effect on one of the most vulnerable segments of society.

In June, Japan's opposition-controlled upper house of parliament approved a motion of no-confidence in Fukuda. It was the first time a chamber of parliament has passed such a censure in the country's post-war history, but the motion was non-binding and largely symbolic.

While no-confidence motions only count in Japan when approved by the LDP-controlled lower house, analysts said it was a stinging rebuke for the prime minister.