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Profile: Taro Aso

Taro Aso 13.7.09
Taro Aso's outspoken nature has sometimes landed him in hot water

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso was meant to be the answer to the Liberal Democratic Party's leadership woes.

Propelled into office by the resignation of Yasuo Fukuda, he was meant to use a populist touch to bolster party support ahead of a general election.

Instead he has stumbled through a series of gaffes, scandals and political dithers.

His support rating now stands around the 20% mark. And, according to exit polls, the LDP's great hope is set to preside over a huge electoral defeat, with the rival Democratic Party of Japan projected to win two-thirds of seats in the lower house.

Mr Aso has said he will resign as head of the LDP, taking responsibility for the result.

Conservative views

Mr Aso comes from a prominent political family - his grandfather was post-war premier Shigeru Yoshida.

He represented Japan in shooting at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, three years before being elected to parliament for the first time.

He served as foreign minister under two different prime ministers before winning the top job himself - his fourth attempt to secure the post.

Taro Aso and Pope Benedict 7.7.09
Mr Aso is the first Roman Catholic to be made prime minister in Japan

The 68-year-old is known for his strong conservative views, advocating a tough line towards North Korea and rejecting any change to the law to allow women to ascend the throne.

He wants Japan to adopt a more muscular foreign policy and has criticised China in the past, describing its military spending as a threat to Japan and the region.

But his opportunities to tackle policy issues have been limited by two key factors - the economic crisis and rows caused by some of his statements.

He has been further stymied by the fact that the upper house of parliament - where the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is in the majority - has been able to block and delay LDP bills.

'Shortcomings'

Almost as soon as he took office the global downturn began, leaving Japan in recession.

Mr Aso and his government passed a series of stimulus measures but were nonetheless criticised for indecision.

Criticism also focused on gaffes he made - about old people, doctors and the poor to name a few.

Voters and the media began to question whether he was the right man to lead the nation.

The LDP suffered a series of poor results in local elections as supporters lost faith.

Finally, a month ahead of the deadline, Mr Aso called a general election for 30 August.

'"My shortcomings caused mistrust from the public and I apologise from my heart for this," he said hours after dissolving parliament.

"I reflect humbly on this situation and will fulfil my responsibilities while keeping in mind the people who support the LDP."

He is urging supporters to stick with his party, calling the DPJ irresponsible.

"They promise spending and programmes that will cost money, but they do not explain how to pay for these things," he said in a debate.

But according to exit polls released immediately after the ballot, voters are not listening.



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