Liberal Democratic Party President Taro Aso was elected the Japan's 59th prime minister in an extraordinary Diet session convened Wednesday, and announced his Cabinet lineup later in the day.
The new Cabinet, which had five first-time appointees--including Yuko Obuchi, who at 34 became the nation's youngest postwar cabinet member--was inaugurated the same evening following an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace.
The most pressing task for the new prime minister will be to try and secure victory at the next House of Representatives election, when he will lock horns with Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa.
Aso has decided to dissolve the lower house in early October, according to sources, to break the current impasse in the divided Diet, in which the ruling bloc holds a majority in the lower house while the opposition bloc has control of the House of Councillors.
The official announcement of the election is likely to be made on Oct. 21, with voting to take place Nov. 2, the sources said.
If the DPJ cooperates with the ruling bloc in passing the extra budget without delay, the lower house is expected to be dissolved after the budget is passed on Oct. 9. If the opposition party instead plays hardball and tries to postpone deliberations, the ruling bloc will give up the plan and immediately dissolve the lower house, according to the sources.
At a press conference Wednesday, Aso announced his Cabinet lineup himself in an effort to highlight his leadership qualities. The announcement is traditionally made by the chief cabinet secretary after new cabinet members are called into the Prime Minister's Office.
"I take seriously people's concerns over the economy, their livelihoods and politics. My mission is to make this country radiant and strong," Aso said before announcing his Cabinet lineup.
Aso made drastic changes to the Cabinet in a bid to stamp his mark on the lineup as the lower house election looms.
Former Education, Science and Technology Minister Takeo Kawamura was named chief cabinet secretary.
Aso named former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Shoichi Nakagawa as finance minister with a portfolio that includes the position of state minister in charge of financial services; former Education Minister Hirofumi Nakasone as foreign minister; and former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama as internal affairs and communications minister.
The appointment of Nakagawa, an advocate of aggressive fiscal spending, signaled a clear shift from the structural reform-oriented policies that have held sway since the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a course that gives top priority to economic recovery.
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari was appointed state minister in charge of administrative reform.
Nariaki Nakayama, a former education minister, was named construction and transport minister.
Aso decided to retain five cabinet members from the administration of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda--Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe; Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai; Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito; Kaoru Yosano, who placed second in the party presidential election on Monday, as state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy; and Seiko Noda, state minister in charge of consumer affairs.
Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who also vied for the LDP presidency, was named agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister.
The newly launched Cabinet had five first-time ministers.
Obuchi, a former parliamentary secretary of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, was named state minister in charge of the declining birthrate. The daughter of late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, she is in her third term in the lower house.
Aso apparently hoped Obuchi's appointment would go down well with the public as an indication of his willingness to include lawmakers from across the generations, as well as making use of female ministers.
Noda was previously the youngest postwar cabinet member when she secured a cabinet post aged 37.
Former Defense Agency Parliamentary Vice Minister Yasukazu Hamada, an independent LDP member, was named defense minister, his first cabinet appointment.
Other first-time appointees are Justice Minister Eisuke Mori, Education, Science and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya, and Tsutomu Sato, National Public Safety Commission chairman and state minister in charge of disaster management and for Okinawa and the northern territories.
Before the special Diet session opened, Fukuda and his Cabinet resigned en masse in the morning.
Aso was first elected prime minister by the lower house during a plenary session early in the afternoon.
However, the opposition-controlled upper house picked Ozawa for prime minister in a runoff between the leading two candidates.
A joint committee of both houses was convened to try and resolve the conflict, but the committee, which comprised 10 members from each of the houses, failed to reach an agreement.
Aso was named prime minister because the lower house decision overrides the upper house's decision under the Constitution.
(sept. 24, 2008)
taro aso, 68
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister
kunio hatoyama, 60
eisuke mori, 60**
hirofumi nakasone, 62
Finance Minister, State Minister in Charge of Financial Services
shoichi nakagawa, 55
Education, Science and Technology Minister
Ryu shionoya, 58**
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister
yoichi masuzoe, 59*
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
shigeru ishiba, 51
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister
toshihiro nikai, 69*
Construction and Transport Minister
nariaki nakayama, 65
tetsuo saito, 56*
yasukazu hamada, 52**
Chief Cabinet Secretary
takeo kawamura, 65
National Public Safety Commission Chairman; State Minister in Charge of Disaster Management
tsutomu sato, 56**
State Minister in Charge of Administrative Reform
Akira amari, 59
State Minister in Charge of Economic and Fiscal Policy
kaoru yosano, 70*
State Minister in Charge of Consumer Affairs
Seiko noda, 48*
State Minister in Charge of Declining Birthrate
Yuko obuchi, 34**
(Sep. 25, 2008