Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) elected conservative Taro Aso to succeed Yasuo Fukuda as its party leader on Monday. This was Aso’s fourth attempt to win the chief post of the party. The former foreign minister is likely to become Japan's prime minister in Wednesday's election as the LDP holds the majority of seats in the lower house.
Newly-elected LDP leader Taro Aso
After securing 351 out of 527 votes, the former foreign minister and general secretary of the party emerged as a clear winner. The other four candidates received 25 to 66 votes only. This included former defence minister Yuriko Koike, who was the first woman candidate in Japan to run for the post.
Shortly after winning the vote, Aso told reporters in Tokyo: “We, as the ruling party must resolutely fight the opposition Democratic Party of Japan in the next election, and only when we have won that election will I have fulfilled my duty.”
The leader, who just turned 68 on Saturday, is most certain to become the new premier this week. The post was vacated by outgoing premier Yasuo Fukuda, who surprisingly resigned earlier this month and became the second leader to quit with in two years.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned last September following a series of scandals.
Challenge to revive the LDP’s image
The Liberal Democrats, who have ruled Japan for nearly more than 50 years, have been facing a deadlock in parliament ever since the opposition Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ took control of the upper house last year, making it difficult for the LDP to pass any key legislation. This has led to a fall in voters’ confidence in the policies of the Liberal Democrats.
Hence, the biggest challenge for Aso is to revive the party’s image. And the outspoken leader appears to know clearly where and how to hit the right note:
“The Japanese public faces problems such as high standard of living, future insecurity or the problem of national security. We must discuss them openly and take appropriate steps to resolve them. I am convinced that apart from our party, no other party can deal with these problems," says Aso.
Boosting economy and ties with neighbours
He has also promised to cut taxes for businesses and stock investors, use public money to revive the economy and implement projects in rural areas, the party's main base.
Despite his image of being a hawkish leader, he has promised to boost ties with China and South Korea and maintain amicable relations with other Asian nations. He also advocates boosting cooperation with the United States and is expected to extend Japan's mission in the Indian Ocean to help with fuel deliveries for the US-led troops in Afghanistan.
Although the term for the LDP’s government runs through September 2009, there has been widespread speculation that an election could be called as early as next month. Some observers say an early poll may help the LDP boost its support, while some say it will test its mandate.
Meanwhile the opposition party leader, Ichiro Ozawa, who was re-elected as his party's leader on Sunday, has also strongly called for snap elections, terming it a "last chance" for change.