The Age

Defeat looms for Japan's gaffe-prone PM

Date: 26/08/2009
Words: 561
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 16
JAPAN'S gaffe-prone Prime Minister Taro Aso has managed to offend a new constituency as his ruling conservative party lurches towards a widely predicted defeat in Sunday's elections.

"If you don't have money, you'd better not get married," Mr Aso told a group of students. "It seems rather difficult to me for someone without means to win people's respect."

His suggestion that a good salary is the prerequisite for marriage and respect has grated in a country where young people no longer enjoy the life-time job security offered to previous generations but instead get dead-end casual and part-time jobs that now comprise 30 per cent of employment.

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, slammed Mr Aso for "failing to understand the reality . . . nobody accepts low income out of choice".

The gaffe follows a string of slurs and injudicious remarks whose targets have included the elderly, dementia sufferers, doctors, stockbrokers, parents of schoolchildren, as well as allies and rivals.

Scion of a wealthy industrial family that employed Allied prisoners of war in its Kyushu coalmines during World War II and grandson of an early postwar prime minister, the 68-year-old Mr Aso has appeared out of touch with ordinary Japanese since he took his party's rapidly rotating leadership last September.

A snappy dresser rumoured to keep weights in the cuffs of his trousers to maintain their fall, he lives in a mansion in a wealthy Tokyo district, frequents expensive bars and restaurants, and has large property holdings in Kyushu.

Even a fondness for manga  he claims to read about 10 of the book-sized comics a week and wants to set up a $180 million national manga museum  has failed to give him the common touch.

Candidates in his Liberal Democratic Party are said to be trying to keep him away from their electorates. After Mr Aso asked why taxes should go to supporting old people not knowing what to do with their retirement, his minder, chief cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura, expressed a minimal aim for his boss: "I want him at least not to score an own goal."

Mr Kawamura was in damage control mode again this week after the marriage and respect remark. "The expression was rather direct," he admitted. "But I think it reflected his feelings that he must go ahead with measures concerning young people's employment."

Opinion polls by Japanese media organisations over the past week have predicted a huge reversal in Japanese politics, as the LDP frittered away the large mandate for economic reform it won in 2005 under former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, when it gained 327 out of 480 lower-house seats.

In Sunday's vote, its strength could be cut to to less than 150 seats, ending a conservative grip on power maintained since the early postwar years with only an 8-month break in 1993-94 under an LDP defector.

The reformist DPJ, led by Yukio Hatoyama, is predicted to win power with between 249 and 300-plus seats, up from the 112 it won in 2005. It has pledged to devote more spending to the country's struggling households than to its exporters and big domestic industries.

About 43 per cent of unaffiliated voters, seen as key players in elections this month, are likely to vote for the DPJ, according to a survey by the Kyodo News agency. A quarter of those who normally vote for the LDP planned to switch sides and vote for the opposition.

"If you dont have money, youd better not get married. It seems rather difficult to me for someone without means to win peoples respect. TARO ASO to students on" Sunday

"Elderly people have no talent other than working." July 2009

"I respect the kindergarten director who said that the people who should be disciplined are the mothers rather than the children. Some of you are having problems with the parents who are behind the children." to a meeting of parent-teacher associations, unaware the audience included many parents

"Japan is doing what the Americans cant do. It would probably be no good

to have blue eyes and blond hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow

faces." commenting on US involvement in the Middle East, March 2007

"If you look at history, there is an example of regimes like the Nazis

taking power as a result of people leaving the ruling party." on any LDP defectors joining the opposition DJP, August 2008

"Regular-quality rice is sold at about 16,000 yen ($A200) per bag here. But it can sell for 78,000 yen in China. Which is more expensive? Even people with Alzheimers disease can understand that." July 2007

Fairfax Digital Privacy Policy | Conditions of Use | Member Agreement | Copyright