Aso again says no election soon

Dealing with economic crisis takes priority

Kyodo News

Prime Minister Taro Aso indicated Sunday he is unlikely to dissolve the House of Representatives this spring, saying he needs to focus on boosting the economy and improving the difficult employment situation.

“I believe public hopes of (improvements in) economic and employment conditions are very high . . . and calls for fiscal stimulus measures worth 2 percent of GDP are also mounting around the world,” Aso said in an interview with NHK.

“So, at this point, I cannot say that I will dissolve (the Lower House) in May or June,” he said.

Aso, who took office in September, has said he won’t hold the general election until the government budget and related bills, which are to finance his economic stimulus measures, clear the Diet, saying he needs to focus on steering the country out of the recession.

Because the fiscal 2009 budget is now expected to be enacted in late March and related bills to be passed around late April, political pundits have speculated he may move to dissolve the Lower House around May.

But Aso, who doubles as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, on Friday ordered the LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, to compile another stimulus package, emphasizing that a further economic slump must be prevented.

To pay for it, Aso is expected to craft an extra budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1. Struggling with low voter support rates, he is likely to put off dissolution of the Lower House until the extra budget clears the Diet, the pundits say.

He hinted that additional steps under consideration include measures to bolster worsening regional economies and labor conditions as well as investment for technologies with high growth potential, such as those related to the environment.

“Public works have often been deemed an evil and the number of such projects has halved over the eight years, consequently exhausting the regional economies,” he said.

Aso also said that each party should clarify what its campaign platform will be before the election, which has to be held by the fall.

To differentiate the LDP from the Democratic Party of Japan, Aso reiterated that he disagrees with DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa’s claim that the U.S. 7th Fleet is sufficient for securing the U.S. presence in the Far East. He also said he would ask the public to shoulder a financial burden, including a consumption tax hike, to cover increasing social security costs.

Tadashi Okamura, head of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who was also on the NHK show, criticized Aso for being slow in implementing his economic measures, but Aso responded that he too is frustrated and blamed the divided Diet.