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Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
Aso moves over to take LDP's No. 2 post
By MASAMI ITO
Seeking a fresh start following his party's disastrous defeat in last month's Upper House election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also serves as Liberal Democratic Party president, reshuffled the party's top posts Monday.
Veteran lawmaker Taro Aso, 66, was named secretary general, vacating the foreign minister's post. As the party's No. 2 figure, Aso will be responsible for coming up with strategies to win national elections.
In a news conference following his appointment, Aso said the LDP found itself in a difficult situation after the ruling coalition's crushing defeat in the July 29 House of Councilors election.
"The LDP must basically regain public trust and earnestly take steps to address public anxiety in the future," he said.
Not only did the ruling bloc lose its majority in the Upper House, the LDP — for the first time in its history — lost its position as the largest party in the chamber. That honor now belongs to the Democratic Party of Japan.
Aso, who came in second to Abe in last year's LDP presidential race, has similar views to the prime minister on foreign policy.
Abe named veteran lawmaker Nobuteru Ishihara, 50, as chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council.
The party's Diet affairs director, Toshihiro Nikai, 68, was appointed chairman of the LDP General Council.
In an attempt to break free from old party habits, Abe shunned factional recommendations. None of his picks come from major factions.
Both Aso and Nikai are leaders of small factions, while Ishihara is unaffiliated.
To do the job, the party's leaders "don't need the backing of a faction," Aso said. "It is up to the three of us to bring together the lawmakers of the LDP, and I would like to manage (the LDP) fairly and honorably."
Ishihara is a son of hardline hawk Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and a close friend of Abe.
When Abe first became LDP president and prime minister last September, he chose his Cabinet ministers and party executives based on friendship and their support for him in the presidential election.
Since then, however, four ministers have fallen victim to scandal and have had to be replaced, exposing the LDP to harsh criticism from the opposition parties and the public.
"Prime Minister Abe and I have been friends for 20 years, but I think this time, he, as the prime minister, chose me as a politician (not as a friend), to be the chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council," Ishihara told the same news conference.
He was previously appointed by Abe as deputy secretary general. He has also served as both minister of transport and administrative reform in previous Cabinets.
"I would like to support Abe in solidarity with Aso and Nikai, and together with our friend New Komeito I would like to try to find the best measures for this new and difficult era," Ishihara said.
Nikai stressed the need to hold thorough discussions with the DPJ.
"I think (the LDP and DPJ) need to hold honest and sincere discussions," Nikai told the news conference. "The public will be watching and there will come a time again when they will hand down their judgment (on the LDP)."