Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Taro Aso bids for prime minister

EYEING THE JOB Former Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, a staunch supporter of closer ties with China, also announced his candidacy yesterday to replace Shinzo Abe

AP , TOKYO

Former foreign minister Taro Aso declared his candidacy yesterday to replace Japan's hospitalized prime minister, running as the conservative choice against dovish former Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Aso announced he would run for the ruling party's presidential race on Sept. 23. The winner is assured election as Japan's prime minister because of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) majority in the lower house of parliament.

"We want to announce our policies to the people of Japan and the members of the party," Aso told supporters. "We want to have an open election."

Fukuda, who served as chief Cabinet secretary under Abe's predecessor, also announced his candidacy yesterday. He is a staunch supporter of closer ties with China, and opposes prime ministerial visits to a Tokyo war shrine associated with militarism.

"This is an emergency situation, so I will do what I must do," Fukuda, 71, told supporters at a Tokyo hotel. "I have a strong sense that I should do this for the country to move Japanese politics forward."

Fukuda, the son of a former prime minister, garnered the early support of Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and media reported popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi would back him.

Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga announced yesterday he would set aside his own ambitions to be prime minister and would support Fukuda.

Abe, 52, abruptly announced his resignation on Wednesday amid a parliamentary battle over his effort to extend the country's naval mission in the Indian Ocean.

Japan is refueling ships there in support of US-led forces in Afghanistan.

On Thursday he checked into a hospital for treatment for psychological stress and exhaustion and was expected to remain for several days. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano said Abe will hold power until a successor takes charge.

Yosano also attempted to calm nerves over the political uncertainty in Japan, saying administrative reforms would continue under Abe's successor.

The ruling party, meanwhile, was facing greater pressure to call snap elections for the powerful lower house of parliament.

The LDP lost control of the upper house in July elections to the resurgent opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama said it was fruitless to let the LDP choose the next premier on its own.

"The prime minister will not have the mandate of the people," Hatoyama told reporters. "We should hold elections as soon as possible."

Fifty percent of respondents to an Asahi Shimbun poll also favored a lower house election -- up 11 percentage points from a previous poll at the end of July. The poll of 1,029 people said 41 percent supported the opposition, and 33 percent favored the LDP.

A similar poll taken by the Mainichi Shimbun showed 59 percent of 773 respondents favoring a lower house election.

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