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Friday, Aug. 25, 2006

Aso bucking odds in LDP race

Downplays Yasukuni, says reform rebels got raw deal


Staff writer

Nobody likes to lose and there may still be a chance to win, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Thursday of his hope to emerge victorious the Sept. 20 Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

News photo
Foreign Minister Taro Aso faces reporters Thursday in Tokyo. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

The media on a daily basis report that Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe will probably win by a landslide. Whoever wins will succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister.

But in an interview Thursday, Aso, who, unlike Abe has declared his candidacy, said he is not conceding anything.

"You never know what's going to happen," Aso said. "Five years ago, it was all over the press that (the late former Prime Minister Ryutaro) Hashimoto was going to win one month before the election, but in the end, Koizumi won a crushing victory. . . . Isn't it a little bit too early for the media (to declare the winner)?"

While Aso has thrown his hat into the ring, he admits his policies are fairly similar to Abe's.

So why run?

"Someone had to stand up and fight," Aso said. "If the play had already ended (with just Abe standing alone) when the curtain went up on Sept. 8 (the official start of the campaign), it would be the end of the LDP."

The debate over ministerial visits to Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine has heated up since Koizumi went to the shrine on Aug. 15. Despite the public interest in where the candidates stand, Aso has repeatedly said Yasukuni should not be a political issue in the LDP election.

Aso, however, avoided saying whether he will visit the shrine, unlike Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, another dark-horse candidate, who has said he will not go to Yasukuni if he becomes prime minister.

Aso also expressed sympathy for former LDP lawmakers who were ousted from the party after opposing Koizumi's postal reform bill and had to run off the party ticket in the Lower House election last year.

"I think (Koizumi) went too far when he did not recognize (the rebels) as party members just for opposing one law," Aso said, adding he believes there is room to consider bringing some of the rebels back into the LDP.



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