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Japan's new PM faces challenges
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Aso faces mounting problems. In the midst of the LDP presidential election, US financial giant Lehman Brothers Inc failed and stock prices violently fluctuated worldwide. Uncertainty over the economy has been growing due to commodity price hikes pushed by surging prices for raw materials.

The problem of illegal trade in agricultural chemical- and mold-tainted rice has expanded and developed to the point that the agriculture minister and the administrative vice-farm minister resigned.

All of these are serious problems.

Aso, after he is named prime minister today, has to pick people who are trustworthy and immediately respond to such difficult issues in forming his cabinet.

Yet, to fulfill his responsibility as LDP president, Aso's most basic task is to lead the LDP to victory over Ichiro Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan in the next lower house election.

Aso had been labeling the LDP presidential race as an election to choose a "warrior" to face off against Ozawa. Immediately after he was elected the new LDP head, he emphasized: "I'll be able to say I fulfilled my destiny when we win in the next (lower house) election."

The lower house election, termed the Aso versus Ozawa election, will be a battle to determine the next ruling party. It will be fought on the basis of which party's policies are real and which are false.

In the LDP presidential race the five candidates debated various issues, which in some ways served as preparation for policy debate with the DPJ in the election.

However, there are quite a few issues that were not satisfactorily discussed.

For instance, how should the government fund its plan to take on a greater portion of the burden of paying basic pension benefits from fiscal 2009?

Raising the consumption tax rate may not be possible for the next fiscal year, but is it acceptable for the ruling party not to discuss the issue at all for now?

Doesn't the LDP have to show at least a blueprint for drastic reform of the pension, health care and nursing care systems to cope with the declining birth rate, aging society and declining population?

As LDP president, Aso must provide a concrete and comprehensible answer for each of these questions.

Aso's unique characteristics will not shine if he repeats mealy mouthed remarks out of an excessive fear of being nailed down on undesirable pledges.

As a national leader he needs to elucidate his policy goals and explain how he will achieve them.

The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

(China Daily September 24,2008)

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