Aso to assume key post: reports

VETERANS::Shinzo Abe may pick the former prime minister for the post of finance or foreign minister, Japanese media say, to allay concern over officials lacking experience

Reuters and AFP, TOKYO

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 - Page 6

Incoming Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will offer the job of finance minister to veteran politician Taro Aso, local media reports said.

A veteran lawmaker and former prime minister, Aso is expected to toe the party line calling for aggressive monetary easing and a public works splurge.

The Asahi and Mainichi newspapers reported yesterday that Aso would get the finance post, while the Yomiuri Shimbun said Aso, 72, was also being considered as a possible foreign minister.

Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its small ally New Komeito captured a two-thirds majority in Sunday’s landslide, will announce his Cabinet lineup on Wednesday next week.

The choice of Aso suggests that Abe is looking to LDP veterans to fill important positions to avoid criticism that his ministers lack experience, a recurring complaint about cabinets of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) that trounced the LDP in 2009, only to suffer a crushing defeat three years later.

Abe’s own first Cabinet similarly suffered criticism that he picked lawmakers close to him personally rather than those best qualified for the job.

When Aso was prime minister, he launched massive economic stimulus packages to combat the 2008 to 2009 financial crisis, but his efforts were overshadowed by gaffes, scandals and policy flip-flops that culminated with the LDP losing power after more than half a century of an almost non-stop rule.

Like Abe, Aso has an elite political lineage and is a grandson of a prime minister.

Abe, who quit abruptly in 2007 after just one year in office, says he has learned from past mistakes and has been working hard to project an image of a strong, mature and decisive leader.

Buoyed by the election victory, which political analysts saw more as voters’ payback for the DPJ’s troubled rule than a full embrace of the LDP, Abe has swiftly moved to press his agenda.

On Monday, he turned up the heat on the Bank of Japan to boost its monetary stimulus when it ends its two-day meeting tomorrow and pressed it to adopt a more ambitious 2 percent inflation target as soon as next month.

Meanwhile, Abe got his US leaders mixed up yesterday, when he told business chiefs he had been speaking to “president Bush” after a phone call from US President Barack Obama.

Abe quickly realized his error when assembled journalists and business leader began chuckling.

The 58-year-old corrected his verbal misstep and told officials from the Keidanren, Japan’s business lobby, that he and Obama had agreed on the importance of the Japan-US security alliance.

Business chiefs had been kept waiting for Abe, who turned up around an hour late. Aides told reporters the White House call had been expected earlier.