Mon, Jan 05, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Japan’s beleaguered PM says no plan for snap election soon

UNSYMPATHETIC Japan has a lot to worry about in the coming year, with the financial crisis already causing the economy to contract for two quarters

AFP , TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso signaled yesterday he would not call elections at least for a few months, pledging instead to tackle the worsening economic crisis.

The opposition has been pressing Aso to dissolve parliament immediately for snap polls, seeing a chance finally to unseat his long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party.

But holding a news conference on the eve of a potentially tense new parliament session, Aso said: “It is clear that economic measures are what we must be in a hurry to do.”

“It is important to pass budgets and related bills. I have no plan to dissolve [parliament] until then,” he said.

Aso, however, stopped short of elaborating on when exactly he planned to call elections, saying only: “Taro Aso will make the decision.”

The government must call a general election by September.

Parliament convenes today for a session in which the ruling coalition will submit budget bills that it hopes to pass by the end of this fiscal year ending on March 31.

The government has proposed a record ¥88.55 trillion (US$965 billion) budget for next year including tax cuts, cash rebates and other incentives aimed at stimulating the world’s second largest economy.

However, legislation in Japan has often hit gridlock since the opposition took control of the less powerful upper house of parliament in July 2007.

Analysts say chances are high that the ruling coalition would suffer a major defeat in the closely watched general elections even if Aso delays the timing further.

“Skepticism is growing in the ruling coalition about a victory in the elections under the leadership of Aso,” said Yoshikazu Sakamoto, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Tokyo.

“His political influence appears declining,” Sakamoto said. “I think a power change is now likely in Japan. Aso is set to face tough time ahead.”

In an unusual move at the televised news conference, Aso wrote the characters for “peace of mind” and “vigor” in traditional calligraphy, saying they were his cabinet’s slogans for the new year.

Aso took office little more than three months ago, but his popularity has already tumbled to about 20 percent with voters critical of his handling of the economy and a series of gaffes by the conservative leader.

Aso, who is from a wealthy family, has been accused of not appearing sympathetic to struggling people.

“Marking the beginning of the year, I am renewing my intention to create a new country,” Aso said.

“My goal remains unchanged. With strong determination, I would like to tackle the crisis and meet people’s expectations,” he added. “I’m determined to do my best to protect people’s lives.”

Japan has much to worry about in the year ahead, with the global slump already causing the economy to contract for two quarters.

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