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The recent behavior of Prime Minister Taro Aso makes one wonder whether he is taking the heavy responsibility his job carries seriously enough. One example is his failure to immediately submit a supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 to the Diet. The supplementary budget is necessary to implement the government’s ¥26.9 trillion economic stimulus package, which includes ¥2 trillion in cash benefits for households.

In deciding on the stimulus package in late October, Mr. Aso made it clear that he is giving priority to buoying the Japanese economy that has been severely hit by the global financial crisis, rather than to dissolving the Lower House and holding general elections under present circumstances. Given the difficult situation of the Japanese economy, however, Mr. Aso should be acting swiftly. But he has been slow in deciding whether to submit the supplementary budget to the current extraordinary Diet session. This is not the attitude of someone who is sincere about aiding the Japanese economy.

The fact that Mr. Aso often changes his position on important matters also casts doubt over his competence as the nation’s leader. For example, he first stated that all the households would receive cash benefits. Later, however, he said that high-income households should be excluded. Regarding the use of revenues from road-related taxes, Mr. Aso initially said that ¥1 trillion should be distributed to local governments in the form of grants-in-aid so that they can use the money freely. But after facing resistance from “road tribe” lawmakers, he backtracked to say he was “not sticking” to grants-in-aid.

Other gaffes may have also led the public to think that Mr. Aso is not serious about issues that they consider important. For example, in a statement he made while discussing the shortage of doctors, he said, “There are many (doctors) who lack a degree of common sense. Their values are very different.” This insults doctors who are doing their best under extremely difficult conditions.

Mr. Aso should be aware that what a prime minister says, whether it be positive or negative, always has an impact on society.

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