Aso gets set for run at LDP presidency

Party election slated for Sept. 22

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Taro Aso, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general, indicated Tuesday he will run for the party’s presidency amid the disarray following Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s abrupt resignation.

Fukuda suddenly announced Monday night that he will resign. Calling an emergency news conference, he said he came to the conclusion that a new leader would be better able to deal with the divided Diet, in which the ruling coalition has found it difficult to pass its legislative agenda.

Fukuda also said low support rates for his Cabinet were one factor behind his decision to step down.

On Tuesday, the LDP’s Presidential Election Committee announced voting will take place on Sept. 22. Aso is expected to declare his formal candidacy around Sept. 10, when the poll officially kicks off.

The LDP president will also be expected to be elected the next prime minister, because the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition controls the Lower House, which overrides the Upper House on the selection of prime ministers.

“I believe I am qualified” to succeed in the position, Aso told reporters at LDP headquarters in Tokyo, noting that he collaborated with Fukuda in sketching out the administration’s agenda.

Aso, 67, who has served as foreign minister and was the runnerup to Fukuda in the 2007 LDP presidential poll, cooperated with Fukuda on the recent economic stimulus package.

The Fukuoka Prefecture native stressed that “leadership must be taken” in the face of the Diet stalemate, where the opposition camp led by the Democratic Party of Japan controls the Upper House.

In regards to criticism against the LDP due to consecutive resignations by Fukuda and his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, Aso insisted that Abe’s decision to stand down was due to health concerns rather than political issues.

But senior members of the LDP scrambled from early Tuesday to control the damage in the wake of Fukuda’s hasty departure.

Fukuda met with LDP members, including Aso, at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and apologized for his resignation and asked that a new LDP president be swiftly installed to prepare for the extra Diet session.

Meanwhile, Tadamori Oshima, the LDP’s diet affairs chief, told reporters that the upcoming session, initially scheduled to start Sept. 12, may be postponed. Dates for the LDP’s presidential election must be set to map out other agendas, he said.

LDP General Council Chairman Takashi Sasagawa expressed hope that if the party takes its time over the election, this will benefit the LDP.

The election “should take place with multiple candidates running,” Sasagawa told reporters, adding that the LDP endorses lively debate and “will not act similar to a certain other party,” referring to the DPJ’s plan to reinstall its president, Ichiro Ozawa, unopposed on Sept. 21.

Akihiro Ota, president of the LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito, also expressed optimism for an active election campaign.

Other LDP members seen as possible candidates for the LDP’s presidency include Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister; Sadakazu Tanigaki, land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister; Seiko Noda, minister in charge of consumer affairs; Kaoru Yosano, minister in charge of economy and fiscal policy; and Nobuteru Ishihara, the LDP’s Policy Research Council chairman.

Koike, 56, who would become the first female prime minister if elected, did not declare or deny that she will run for the presidency Tuesday.

“We must all share the sense of urgency,” she said, without clarifying her intentions. The conservative hawk has strong ties with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after serving as environment minister in his Cabinet.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, 63, who has served as chief of the National Public Safety Commission and as finance minister, ran against Abe and Aso in the 2006 LDP presidential poll.

“I haven’t given it much thought as of now” whether to run in the race, he said.

Noda, 48, said she has not made a decision but is keeping an open mind. The former posts and telecommunications minister left the LDP after opposing Koizumi’s push for postal privatization, but later returned to the party.

Veteran lawmaker Yosano, meanwhile, signaled he will not run in the race, telling reporters he believes Aso “qualifies as a candidate to become a superb president of the LDP.”

Aso, who leads a small LDP faction, is expected to be endorsed by former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama and Economy Minister Akira Amari. The grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, however, has also been criticized for inappropriate remarks, including about people with Alzheimer’s disease and on Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.