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Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008

Aso team likened to school classroom

Staff writers

Prime Minister Taro Aso's Cabinet lineup may look a bit subdued, but there's good reason for that: He deliberately picked low-profile politicians instead of factional bigwigs so he can lead them around like a "school teacher," experts said Wednesday.

"It seems this Cabinet is a bit too plain to be an election measure," said Nobuhiro Hiwatari, professor of political science at the institute of social science at Tokyo University.

"I think the aim is probably to form the Cabinet in which Aso can show his leadership to gain popularity" with voters, he said.

Acting like a teacher and showing voters what one critic described as "the Aso School" will benefit the ruling party boss, who will soon be in the heat of an election battle against the Democratic Party of Japan.

The stakes are high for both sides. If the ruling Liberal Democratic Party loses, it will probably lose big and the DPJ will seize control of the government.

No one knows exactly when the election will take place. But the prime minister has the sole authority to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election. Aso will want to prioritize passage of the supplementary budget to stimulate the stalling economy.

Most political analysts have no idea how the election will turn out.

Hiwatari questioned Aso's strategy, pointing out that if his aim was to boost his party's popularity before the election, he should have gone with a different Cabinet lineup.

Norihiko Narita, a political science professor at Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture, called the lineup "the Aso School Cabinet."

"Aso basically chose his favorite 'students,' the ones he wants to bring up," Narita said. "But at the same time, he was careful to make sure that the 'teacher' didn't become inconspicuous . . . because Aso plans to stand at the front."

Narita noted that Aso was able to pick his ministers freely and without bowing to the usual LDP factions.

For example, he appointed three ministers from former Finance Minister Bunmei Ibuki's faction, which only has 28 people, and gave only two posts to the largest faction, led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, which has 88 members.

"Aso was able to choose freely because he got a landslide victory in the presidential election," Narita said. "He exhibited strong power" in the party.

Furthermore, Aso warmly welcomed most of his rivals, either by giving them ministerial posts or appointing them as LDP executives. One conspicuous omission, however, was the first female candidate, ex-Defense Minister Yuriko Koike.

Aso excluded the high-profile Koike and installed two female ministers instead: Seiko Noda, resuming her role as consumer affairs minister, and Yuko Obuchi, who will tackle the low birthrate problem.

"Noda and Obuchi are like teacher's pets," Narita said. "But Koike isn't the type."

Another surprising appointment seems to be that of former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba as farm minister.

Tokyo University's Hiwatari said that although the public sees Ishiba as an expert on security issues, he also has experience working as parliamentary vice minister at the farm ministry.

Ishiba was also active in bringing up the income disparity issue between urban and rural areas during the LDP presidential election and voiced loud support for rural areas.

Hiwatari pointed out that Aso's picks show his will to implement emergency measures, including a supplementary budget, to revive the ailing economy, given that Shoichi Nakagwa was appointed Finance minister.

Nakagawa backed Aso during the LDP presidential election because he shares similar views on economic policy with Aso, including the use of public spending if necessary.

As for the post of foreign minister, which Aso himself once held, critics said Nakasone seems to lack experience.

"I was under the impression that this means that the prime minister himself probably will lead foreign diplomacy," said Hiwatari.

As for the hurdles the Aso Cabinet faces until the election, Hiwatari said the Cabinet will have to be careful about dodging attacks from the opposition parties on problems like the pension issue and tainted rice, all the while proving the abilities of the Cabinet and Aso.

But who knows what will happen when the time comes for the ultimate confrontation between Aso's LDP and Ichiro Ozawa's DPJ.

Aso is already a well-known figure and is popular with the general public, while Ozawa does not exactly come off as an open person.

So, it would make sense for Aso to turn the campaign into a personality battle with Ozawa, Hiwatari said, considering Aso's efforts to build his image of a strong leader.

"If it comes down to an 'Ozawa vs. Aso' situation, I think Aso may be thinking that he has the advantage," Hiwatari said.

New party born

Kyodo News

A new party was born Wednesday when independent Lower House member Shingo Nishimura became the fifth member of Kaikaku Kurabu (Reform Club).

A party must have at least five Diet members to be recognized. With its new status, the group can gain access to government subsidies for political parties.

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