Ruling party picks outspoken Aso to be Japan PM

Mon Sep 22, 2008 7:41am EDT
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By Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Outspoken nationalist Taro Aso, an advocate of spending and tax cuts to boost the economy, won the race on Monday to become Japan's next prime minister and swiftly set his sights on an election expected within months.

Aso, a former foreign minister, clinched the ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership vote by a landslide to take over from Yasuo Fukuda, who quit this month just as the economy flirts with recession and faces further damage from turmoil on Wall Street.

"As I traveled around the regions, I became even more convinced that the economy was in a recession," Aso, 68, told a news conference after winning the leadership, adding his priority was to revitalize the economy before tackling a huge public debt.

However, Aso may have little time to revive the world's second-biggest economy if, as media and pundits predict, he calls an early poll for parliament's powerful lower house.

"Standing here, I feel that this is Taro Aso's destiny," Aso, the grandson of a premier, told LDP members after winning 351 of 525 valid votes cast by party lawmakers and chapters.

"But the LDP, as the government party, must resolutely fight the (opposition) Democratic Party in the next election, and only when we have won that election will I have fulfilled my destiny.

Aso, set to be voted prime minister on Wednesday by virtue of the ruling bloc's majority in parliament's powerful lower house, will be Japan's third prime minister in a year. Both his predecessors quit in the face of a deadlocked parliament, where the opposition controls the upper house and can stall bills.

"It's going to be a weak government and there is going to be an election and there will probably be a weak government as a result of the election," said Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis. "Japan will not be in a position to play a more dynamic role in world affairs. It will be more and more inward-looking."   Continued...

<p>Former foreign minister Taro Aso bows to parliamentarians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after he was chosen as the party president during the LDP parliamentarian meeting at the party headquarters in Tokyo September 22, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>