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Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008

Aso goes on attack in Diet policy speech

Presses DPJ for political debate, end to gridlock

Staff writer

Prime Minister Taro Aso kicked off an extraordinary Diet session Monday with a policy speech in which he challenged the Democratic Party of Japan to a political debate, consciously highlighting the ruling camp's rivalry with the largest opposition force.

News photo
Fighting talk: Prime Minister Taro Aso delivers a policy speech at the opening of the extraordinary Diet session Monday. KYODO PHOTO

During the speech to both the Lower and Upper Houses, Aso slammed the largest opposition party, saying that by creating political deadlock in the opposition-controlled Upper House it has placed priority on politics instead of the lives of the people.

"The DPJ's slogan is 'politics exist to protect the lives of the public' . . . and if that is true, we should establish a rule to find common ground," he said. "Is the DPJ ready to do that?"

Aso is expected to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election in the near future. The prime minister alone has the right to do this, and some political insiders say he may do so as early as Friday to hold an election in early November.

In an unusual move, Aso repeatedly mentioned the DPJ by name, stirring up tension between it and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party before the major political battle of a general election.

"I think it is a little bit different from past policy speeches," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference. "Given the (possible) election, I think it is a policy speech that shows 'Aso's color' of wanting to hold solid policy discussions with the DPJ."

Aso was elected prime minister only last Wednesday but is already in trouble. Just four days after appointing Nariaki Nakayama as transport minister, the conservative Nakayama was forced to resign after a series of verbal gaffes.

Before beginning his speech to the Diet, Aso apologized for Nakayama's controversial statements and said his remarks were inappropriate for a Cabinet minister.

Political analysts say there is no way of knowing whether in the expected general election the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition will be able to stay in power or whether the DPJ can win and seize control of the government.

"I will bring peace and security to the future of Japan and its people, stability and hope to the people's lives and the dreams of the children for the future," Aso said. "I will engrave in my mind that my duty is to be impregnable and to devote myself to the duties of the prime minister."

One of the most urgent matters is to rejuvenate the economy, Aso said. He laid out a three-step process in which the first step would be economic measures, the next step financial reconstruction and the final step economic growth.

Economic measures include income tax cuts for low-income earners and the passage of a ¥1.8 trillion supplementary budget to back the stimulus package put together by the ruling camp.

"I have mentioned the three steps — and the outlook is about three years," Aso said. "Japan's economy will be fully cured in three years. In three years, we must believe that Japan can grow out of this (economic situation)."

On diplomacy, Aso said the No. 1 priority is the Japan-U.S. alliance. He briefly mentioned the necessity of building stability and prosperity and growing together with Asia-Pacific countries such as neighboring China, South Korea and Russia.

Aso again differentiated himself from the DPJ by saying that he emphasizes the alliance with the U.S., unlike elements of the DPJ that want to shift Japan's diplomatic pillar to the United Nations.

"When considering the security of our nation and the world, I don't think we are in a situation to entrust the current U.N. — which can be controlled by a small number of countries — with our nation's fate," Aso said. "The DPJ has the responsibility of clarifying to the Japanese public and the world whether it plans to prioritize the Japan-U.S. alliance or the U.N."

Aso also demanded an answer from the DPJ on whether it wants to stop the refueling of multinational warships engaged in counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.

After Aso's speech, DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said the new prime minister "put on an act on purpose with the general election coming up. I guess (the LDP) is getting ready to become the opposition party."

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The Japan Times

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