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Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009
Aso vows 'bold' steps to remedy economy
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday renewed his pledge to lead Japan out of the current economic crisis faster than any other country through drastic economic and employment measures.
But Aso, known for his slips of the tongue, remained reserved during his second policy speech to the Diet since taking office in September.
Unlike his previous speech, in which he launched a full-on attack of the Democratic Party of Japan, he reached out for cooperation to speed up Diet deliberations.
"It is completely natural for the ruling and opposition parties to have differences of opinion," Aso said. "But what the public wants is not confrontation but politics that can produce results quickly."
He vowed to create 1.6 million jobs in the next three years.
Aso repeated his strong intention to call for a consumption tax hike as early as 2011, urging the public to bear a heavier burden to pay for good social welfare and not to pass the bill on to future generations.
"To establish a sustainable social security system, we need the people to bear the burden in accordance with the service they receive," Aso told the Diet. "I will carefully watch the economic situation to determine the timing (for a tax hike), but I will do my best so that the economy will have recovered by 2011."
Suffering from a critically low support rate, Aso has come up with a series of stimulus packages worth a whopping ¥75 trillion to turn the economy around and thereby regain his popularity with voters.
A Lower House general election must be held this year, and with the support rate for Aso and his Liberal Democratic Party at anemic levels, the DPJ-led opposition could take power.
One of Aso's key economic policies is the ¥2 trillion cash handout in which ¥12,000 will be given to each individual, including registered foreigners, with an additional ¥8,000 going to everyone 18 and younger or 65 and older.
Instead of building support for the LDP, however, the payout program has proved to be very unpopular. A recent Kyodo News survey found that more than 70 percent of the public is against the handout.
Despite the opposition's repeated demands that Aso abandon the handout, he has refused to budge.
"By taking bold measures, I will aim for Japan to be the first country to get out of this recession," he told the Diet. "Exceptional measures must be taken against the abnormal economy."
The 68-year-old prime minister, known as a hawk, hasn't shown much of his conservative colors since taking office.
In just a brief mention, he said, "I will push for reform in order to keep the good, old traditions and develop them — that is the true conservatism that I am aiming for."