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Japan's Taro Aso Accepts 'Destiny' of Prime Minister Post


Members of Japan's ruling party have overwhelmingly selected former Foreign Minister Taro Aso as their leader, virtually ensuring he will become the country's prime minister this week. Aso now faces a daunting task of spurring Japan's sluggish economy, if he wants to head off a serious political challenge to his party's 55 years of rule in elections expected later this year. VOA's Kurt Achin has more.

Taro Aso used words like "mission" and "destiny" Monday, as he accepted the leadership of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP.

Party members chose him by about a two-thirds majority, putting him on a path to be confirmed as Japan's minister by parliament this week.

Aso's two predecessors resigned abruptly over plunging approval ratings related to perceived mishandling of the economy. The LDP, which has ruled Japan for more than 50 years, now faces a serious challenge in general elections expected to be held later this year.

Aso told party members Monday he is the one to pull the struggling party together.

He says he is determined to lead the LDP to win the election, revive the country, promote reforms and move forward.

Aso will need to reunify his fractured party by appealing to supporters of his four opponents in Monday's LDP election. His main challenge, however, will be breathing new life into a lackluster domestic economy. Aso says he is ready for the task.

He says the economy is the most important issue for Japan right now.

Aso has expressed opposition to many of the privatization and deregulation reforms instituted by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Jeffrey Kingston, Asian Studies professor at Temple University in Japan, says Aso backs an active government role in the economy, but may have some convincing to do among the public.

"He's in favor of a recent pump-priming budget, tax cuts and subsidies and things along those lines that they hope are going to revive the economy," said Kingston. "And given that Japan has a public debt to GDP ratio of 166 percent, a lot of people think that this is probably not the right thing to do."

On the international front, Aso is an outspoken supporter of cooperation with the United States. He is expected to work hard to break a stalemate that halted Japanese refueling of ships taking part in U.S. - led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan.

He is also expected to press North Korea hard on the issue of abducted Japanese citizens, and on Pyongyang's promises to eliminate nuclear weapons- issues that will be closely watched here in South Korea.


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