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Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009

Aso meets press but stays mum on plans for stimulus pay

Staff writer

Prime Minister Taro Aso refused once again on Saturday to divulge his timing for dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election, stating that the economy is his top priority.

In an interview with members of the press club at the Prime Minister's office in Chiyoda Ward, Aso repeated that he does not intend to call an election before the fiscal 2009 budget clears the Diet.

"I think it would be irresponsible if I didn't confirm the effects of the economic measures" in the second extra budget for 2008 and the budget for fiscal 2009, Aso said.

"I will be the ultimate decision-maker on when to dissolve the Lower House," Aso added. "But I can't predict the economic situation yet — it is still too unstable and unclear."

Aso, whose popularity is at an all-time low, is under pressure to call an election before the terms of the Lower House lawmakers end in September.

Since taking office, Aso has been criticized for his gaffes and wavering on policies. Most recently, he has come under attack for refusing to say whether he would accept the stimulus pay set to be handed out under his proposed cash benefit program.

In December, he said it would be "mean-minded" for wealthy people to accept the money. But recently he has changed his mind, saying that he wants "everyone" to spend the money "in grand style."

Although the majority of his Cabinet said it is willing to use the handout, Aso, the grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida and himself a wealthy man with an enormous estate in Shibuya Ward, has refused to state whether he would take the money.

But Aso says it isn't he who is wavering, but the economy. In light of the dramatic global changes in the past few months, Aso now hopes the public will take the money and use it to stimulate consumption.

"The government or the prime minister doesn't have the right to order individuals to accept or not accept the money," Aso said. "As for myself, I have no intention of saying what I will do before the budget is approved — I've been saying the same thing all along."

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The Japan Times

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