Aso, Taro


Aso, Taro
▪ 2009

born Sept. 20, 1940, Iizuka, Fukuoka, Japan

 On Sept. 22, 2008, after three previous attempts, former Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso claimed the leadership of the country's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), winning 351 votes (more than two-thirds of the 527 ballots cast), while his four challengers divided the remaining 176 votes. Two days later Aso was sworn in as Japan's first Roman Catholic prime minister, succeeding Yasuo Fukuda, who had unexpectedly resigned as LDP leader (and, thus, as prime minister) amid political infighting and a troubled economy. It was the LDP's third change of leadership in two years and the fourth bid for the position by Aso, who lost to Junichiro Koizumi in 2001, Shinzo Abe in 2006, and Fukuda in 2007.

      It seemed clear to outside observers that the election of the brash Aso—a charismatic speaker with a cheerful demeanour and a tendency to verbal gaffes—was an attempt by the LDP to regain voter confidence after having lost the 2007 elections to the upper house of the Diet (parliament). He was expected to call early elections to the lower house, but it was still uncertain whether he could bring the LDP the support it sought at the ballot box.

      Aso, the son of a business tycoon, was closely linked to both political and imperial dynasties and seemed destined for a political career. He was a grandson of two-time prime minister Shigeru Yoshida (1946–47, 1948–54); his father-in-law was former prime minister Zenko Suzuki (1980–82); and one of his sisters was married to a cousin of Emperor Akihito. Aso graduated (1963) from Gakushuin University's faculty of politics and economics and later studied at Stanford University and the University of London. He joined Aso Industry in 1967 and within six years had advanced to president and CEO of the Aso Cement Co., Ltd. (When the mining division of Aso Industry became embroiled in a scandal regarding its use of Korean and Allied prisoners of war as slave labourers during World War II, he emphasized that he was not born until 1940 and had no direct connection to Aso Mining.) Aso left the family business in 1979 when he was first elected to the Diet. He rose through the ranks of the LDP, eventually becoming secretary-general, and held a variety of cabinet posts, including minister of state for the economic planning agency (1996–97), minister of state for economic and fiscal policy (2001), and minister for internal affairs and communications (2003–05).

      In October 2005 Prime Minister Koizumi appointed Aso to head the Foreign Ministry, a role he briefly retained under Prime Minister Abe until he was replaced in August 2007. As foreign minister, Aso built a reputation as a strong conservative and hawkish nationalist who endorsed the U.S.-Japan alliance and took a hard line with North Korea and China. He was known to support labour reforms, regional decentralization that would give greater autonomy to Japan's prefectures, and increased taxes to fund the national pension scheme.

      Aso also nurtured a populist image, especially among young Japanese. A champion marksman, he represented Japan in skeet shooting at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Of special significance, however, was his love for manga, and he worked to spread appreciation for the graphic literary form. In 2007 Aso organized the International Manga Awards, a “Nobel Prize for manga,” to be awarded annually to young foreign manga artists based outside Japan.

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Universalium. 2010.

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