Japan's next PM Aso a "cool old dude"

Mon Sep 22, 2008 2:18am EDT
 
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - An outspoken nationalist and the scion of an elite political family, Japan's next prime minister, Taro Aso, has crafted an image as a "cool old dude" in tune with the country's manga-loving youth, despite a record of gaffes.

The 68-year-old former Olympic sharpshooter will need all his political skills and then some to guide his ruling party through a tough election he's expected to call soon, and help the country weather turbulent financial markets and a faltering economy.

Aso, a former foreign minister who is grabbing the top job on his fourth attempt, has put priority on spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy, even if that means delaying efforts to reduce Japan's huge public debt and balance the budget by 2012.

Well-known both for his desire to see Japan play a bigger global security role and for a tendency to offend with off-the-cuff remarks, Aso recently reeled off a list of concerns voters may have about him.

"One is that I'm prone to pork-barrel spending," he told a news conference during the leadership campaign. "A second is that I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, and a third is that I may antagonize China and South Korea."

But he denied that his proposed tax cuts amounted to pork-barrel spending and stressed there had been no dust-ups with Asian rival China during his stint as foreign minister.

"I have always managed to stop short of my remarks turning into gaffes," he added.

Polls show Aso is the top choice to take the helm of Japan's venerable Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled the country for almost all of the party's 53 year history.   Continued...