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Long live Taro Aso!

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - A conservative, a businessman, a nationalist and a populist; resolute as a samurai, careless and impulsive in his statements - all this can be said of Taro Aso, who will govern Japan from now on.

Although Japan's parliament is to formally approve Aso, who was elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on September 22, as prime minister on September 24, the post is in his pocket already: the LDP and its centrist ally New Komeito Party, or Clean Government Party, have the comfortable majority in the key lower chamber. Time will show how long Aso will serve, but given the recent twists in Japan's politics, he is unlikely to set a lifetime record. Since September 2006 he has been the third Japanese prime minister to take the place of his predecessor, who resigned after about a year in office.

Interestingly, those were the prime ministers who had no popular mandate and were not elected after their parties' triumphs in general elections. According to Japan's political tradition and legal practices, the parliament can elect the prime minister in the interim between elections. Both Aso's predecessor Yasuo Fukuda and Fukuda's predecessor Shinzo Abe got their posts this way. They both resigned virtually bent by an unbelievable rating plunge on the wave of anti-corruption scandals and the government's inability to resolve national economic problems.

From most experts' viewpoint, the fact that government reshuffles of that kind have become typical of the Land of the Rising Sun in recent years is evidence to the following: first, the mighty political machine of the LDP has started malfunctioning (with short breaks, the party has been presiding over the country since the end of World War II), and second, Japan's political system has become obsolete and doesn't work at all. You can hardly call this system two-party even at a stretch (all those minor parties don't really count). In truth, there are few differences, both ideological and political, between the LDP and its main rival - the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and it is very difficult to find out what they differ in.

Incidentally, the DPJ's current President Ichiro Ozawa was Secretary General of the LDP not long ago. There are staunch conservatives and ardent liberals, hawks and doves in both parties. The difference between them lies in that the LDP has been losing voters' confidence in recent years, and the DPJ failed to gain that confidence no matter how hard it tried. Hence the Japanese political phenomenon of recent years: in the country's electoral college, the stratum of those who used to be loyal to the LDP but haven't "fallen in love" with the DPJ, has grown in number.

Japan's latest prime minister to be elected by a landslide was Jun'ichiro Koizumi - a politician who saved the party from "melting away" totally, but left in 2006. It is yet unclear whether Taro Aso will manage to save the party once again. He might give it a try at least.

The try is said to start in the near future. Asahi Shimbun, Japan's most influential and informative paper, reports that on October 3 the new prime minister can venture on dissolution of the parliament scheduling early parliamentary elections for October 26. (According to the law, they are to be held next September.) The party's strategists and Aso consider that they should take advantage of the "honeymoon" and the voter's belief that "a new broom will sweep clean" at least a part of Japan's economic and political misfortunes.

Taro Aso, 68, is not new to politics: he served as a member of parliament, minister of education, culture and sports, economic planning, economy and finance, and foreign affairs. His grandfather Shigeru Yoshida and father-in-law Zenko Suzuki were prime ministers as well. Incidentally, he used to be a member of Japan's Olympic shooting team.

Aso is more of a businessman than a politician. The new premier is the richest man in the current Cabinet. Since 1966 he has been involved in a family business heading the Aso Cement company. In truth, the firm's image is not that positive. It succeeded to the Aso Mining company, which was accused of exploiting 10,000 Korean convicts and the Allies' POWs during the war. We can't say Aso denies these facts, but he does not acknowledge them either. Instead, his excuse is that during the war he was so young that he knows "nothing about it."

In fact, when he speaks, Aso, who is very talkative, resembles Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. You can expect from Taro, just like from Silvio, the cold truth and phrases that often plunge his colleagues into shock and awe.

In Japan "true patriotism" is often measured in terms of a politician's attitude towards the Northern territories - the Kuril Islands. Taro has treated them with the pragmatism of a businessman. In 2006 he caused a real headache with the Japanese Foreign Ministry with his statement over a means to "deal harshly" with the Russians in the "Kurils matter."

Aso said at a government meeting that they should have put an end to all that nonsense long ago by simply dividing the islands 50/50 between Russia and Japan. In his concept, Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks would be smoothly divided: Russia would get 75% of Iturup (the range's largest island), and Japan - the island's remaining 25%, plus the three smaller islands. It took the Japanese Foreign Ministry a great deal of effort to convince its chief that the Kuril Islands were no bag of cement and the problem was not that easy to resolve.

The MFA even had to officially deny the minister's words. Its press release said that the minister had put forward no proposal to solve the problem by simply cutting the territories in half, and his words were reported without the nuance he implied. All in all, the minister was "misunderstood." I only wonder whether he will remember his idea this time.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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