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Former Japanese Foreign Minister Likely to Assume Leadership


Former Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso is widely expected to assume the post of Prime Minister this week. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports, Aso is a pro-American leader whose party faces a serious political challenge if it does not address domestic economic fears.

Taro Aso's grandfather, Shigeru Yoshida, and father-in-law, Zenko Suzuki, were both Prime Ministers of Japan. Now, the former foreign minister is overwhelmingly likely to assume the top job himself.

Members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, are expected to elect him president of the party in Monday's upcoming election, lining him up to become prime minister.

Despite his privileged background, Aso is widely seen as a having a populist appeal. He is a former Olympic sharpshooter who enjoys Japanese comic books and speaks with what some describe as a blunt style.

Taniguchi Tomohiko, an adjunct professor at Tokyo's Keio University, says Aso is likely to cooperate closely with the United States.

"He's not a shy person to acknowledge that the United States is the first, and second, and third, and fourth most important nation for Japan," said Taniguchi Tomohiko.

Taniguchi says Aso will push hard to break a legislative stalemate that halted Japan's role in refueling vessels assisting U.S.-led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Washington views Tokyo's contribution as important and has called for it to resume as soon as possible.

Aso has angered Beijing in the past with statements of support for Taiwan, which governs itself but is seen by China as a breakaway province. Jeffrey Kingston, Asian Studies Professor at Temple University in Japan, says Aso is likely to temper his China views to accommodate the United States.

"Washington wants to make China feel like a stakeholder in the international system," said Kingston. "And, I think if Aso does indeed win, we're going to see a toning down of his rhetoric and moderation of his views."

The LDP has governed Japan for nearly all of its history following defeat in World War Two. However, Kingston says the party is expected to face its most serious challenge yet, in general elections expected to take place later this year.

"The LDP is definitely on the ropes. There's just been a series of blunders, mistakes, and setbacks," added Kingston. "And they haven't really addressed the issues that people really care about - you know, the bread and butter stuff."

Japan's stagnant economy is the dominant political issue right now, and the country's two previous prime ministers resigned abruptly over perceived mishandling of economic affairs.

Aso has vowed to stimulate Japan's domestic economy, possibly by increasing government expenditures. Opponents say he will slow the pace of economic reforms Japan sorely needs.

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