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TOKYO, July 6 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's
sagging support rates and a ruling bloc loss in a closely watched
local governor's race are fuelling speculation that his party may
seek to replace him before a general election due by October.
Following are some possible candidates to replace Aso as
leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and premier.
YOICHI MASUZOE, 60
Masuzoe, now health and welfare minister, is a multilingual
scholar well-versed in international and domestic politics who
often appeared on TV as a commentator before winning an upper
house seat in 2001. His mother suffered from dementia in the
years leading up to her death, and Masuzoe has written a series
of magazine articles about his experiences caring for her.
Though widely seen as competent and hardworking, he has
struggled in his current post to reform the national pension
system, which has been found to be riddled with errors and fraud.
NOBUTERU ISHIHARA, 52
A reporter turned politician, Ishihara is the son of Tokyo
governor Shintaro Ishihara, an outspoken nationalist, but has
more moderate views than his father. He was one of five
candidates, along with Aso, who ran in September's LDP party
An advocate of sweeping reform of the bureaucracy, he has
served as transport minister and minister for administrative
reform. He was one of several young ruling party lawmakers who
worked on steps in 1998 to revitalise Japan's crisis-hit
financial sector and is well-versed in economic policy.
SHIGERU ISHIBA, 52
Currently serving as agriculture minister, former defence
minister Ishiba is known for what media call a "geeky" knowledge
of security issues and has written several books on defence.
Ishiba gained a reputation as an unflappable debater when the
LDP wrestled with the powerful opposition over the renewal of a
legal mandate for marine refuelling in the Indian Ocean in
support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.
He stood against Aso in a party leadership race in September.
YURIKO KOIKE, 56
A former TV announcer fluent in English and Arabic, Koike
served briefly as Japan's first woman defence minister in 2007.
She ran in the ruling party leadership race last year in a
bid to become the country's first female prime minister on a
platform pledging to stick to popular former premier Junichiro
Koizumi's market-oriented reforms.
Koike has a record of switching parties. Her career began in
the opposition and she was once a protege of Ichiro Ozawa, former
leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.
SEIKO NODA, 48
Currently cabinet minister in charge of consumer affairs,
Noda was once tipped as a possible first female prime minister.
She was appointed posts and telecoms minister at the age of
37 but lost prominence after speaking out against Koizumi's
postal reforms. She left the LDP to stand as an independent in a
2005 election Koizumi called to resolve the subsequent row that
split the party, but is now back in the fold.
SADAKAZU TANIGAKI, 63
Tanigaki, who has served as finance minister and transport
minister and was appointed deputy head of the LDP tax panel last
September, is well-versed in economic policy.
A graduate of the elite Tokyo University and a former lawyer,
he has said Japan needs to raise its consumption tax to fix its
huge public debt. He is a relative dove on foreign policy.
HIDEO HIGASHIKOKUBARU, 51
A popular ex-comedian, Higashikokubaru was elected governor
of Miyazaki in southern Japan in 2007 as an independent. He often
appears on TV commenting on national policy issues and has his
face plastered on local products to help promote sales.
Higashikokubaru responded to an LDP proposal that he run on
the party ticket by offering a counter-deal in which he would do
so if the party would let him have its top post. But the
likelihood seems slim, especially after opinion polls showed most
voters were unimpressed by the idea of his candidacy.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds, Yoko Nishikawa and Linda Sieg;
Editing by Michael Watson)