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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights reserved.
Junichiro Koizumi and Japan's future
During the election campaign,
the Minshuto party leaders Yukio Hatoyama and
Naoto Kan criticized Koizumi's economic reform plan as being on the
detriment of social welfare. This
electoral strategy failed - a large portion of Japanese voters seem to be ready for
reform and are prepared to accept some harsh measures; the governing tripartite coalition
of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Komeito and the New Conservative
Party (NKP) won 78 of 121 seats on ballot, increasing their
total number of Upper House seats from 137 to 139. However, the Koizumi
effect was not as important as expected. This is also reflected in the third
lowest postwar Upper House election voter turnout: 56.4%. The perverse thing
about the election is that Koizumi helped a lot of conservative LDP members
who oppose his reform plans to regain their seats. However, many Japanese
have enough of the country's excessive conformism. The choice of Koizumi as
Prime Minister might be the beginning of paradigm change.
Junichiro Koizumi was born in 1942 in Yokosuka in the Kanagawa Prefecture. He is a third-generation politician. His grandfather and father also occupied cabinet posts. Koizumi's grandfather, Matajiro, was a carpenter before becoming a politician. He was elected as a lawmaker from Minseito (People's Government Party) and became a minister in two prewar cabinets. Koizumi's father, Junya, served as Director General of the Defense Agency in the cabinet of Hayato Ikeda during the 1960s.
In 1967, Koizumi graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Keio University. In the late 1960s, he studied at the University of London. Koizumi is said to have no difficulty communicating in English. In December 1969, after the death of his father, he returned to Japan and run unsuccessfully in a House of Representatives election. In 1970, he became a secretary to former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, then a member of the House of Representatives.
In December 1972 in his second attempt, Koizumi was elected to the Lower House. Not surprisingly, he became a member of the Fukuda faction in the LDP. In 1978, Koizumi married the granddaughter of a pharmaceutical company founder. She was 14 years younger. They had a big political wedding with 2500 guests at the Tokyo Prince Hotel. However, in 1982, they divorced when she was pregnant with their third child - their three sons are today 18, 19 and 22. Koizumi is one of the very few politicians to have divorced and remained single. He raised two of his sons as a single father.
In December 1988, Koizumi became Health and Welfare Minister in Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita's reshuffled cabinet. In June of the following year, Koizumi was reappointed Health and Welfare Minister by new Prime Minister Sosuke Uno.
In January 1991, Koizumi formed the so-called "YKK trio" with LDP lawmakers Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki. In October of the same year, the new Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu was forced to resign following pressures from three factions led by Michio Watanabe, Kiichi Miyazawa and Hiroshi Mitsuzuka on initiative of the YKK trio.
In December 1992, Koizumi became Minister of Postal and Telecommunication Services under Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. In July 1993, the LDP failed to win a majority in the Lower House election. Koizumi openly told Miyazawa to resign and resigned himself from his ministerial post the next day. In August 1993, the LDP was forced into the opposition as a coalition government under Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa took over.
In May 1994, Koizumi launched a Diet group called Shinseiki (New Century) led by the YKK trio with younger parliamentary members who belong to different LDP factions.
In September 1995, the maverick Koizumi ran in the LDP presidential race for the first time - already with a reform policy foreseeing the privatizing of postal and savings businesses. However, he only won a tiny support and Ryutaro Hashimoto became Japan's new Prime Minister.
In August 1996, Koizumi announced a proposal for privatization of postal services at a meeting of a study group launched with Hosokawa and Shusei Tanaka, director general of the Economic Planning Agency and a member of New Party Sakigake. In November 1996, Koizumi became Health and Welfare Minister in Hashimoto's second cabinet and remained there until 1998.
In July 1998, as Hashimoto stepped down, Koizumi ran in the LDP presidential election again - and lost again, this time against Keizo Obuchi, coming last, also behind Kajiyama.
In April 2000, Prime Minister Obuchi fell into a coma and was replaced by Yoshiro Mori. A year later, Koizumi ran for the third time in the LDP presidential race - and was elected as the LDP's 20th president. His victory was made possible because it was not up to the party's factions to decide behind closed doors who would be the new LDP president. Instead the party's 47 local chapters each had three votes. In addition to 141 votes came the votes of the 346 LDP parliamentary members. Koizumi won 123 of the local votes, whereas among LDP lawmakers he only got a tiny majority of 175 out of 346 votes. As Prime Minister, he has of course primarily to deal with the LDP Diet members.
Koizumi's victory reflected growing discontent on a public and party basis with the LDP-led government and with a Prime Minister, Mori, who only had a one-digit approval rate. For a decade, the Japanese economy has been in a bad shape and the people seem to be ready for real change. Furthermore, many LDP members at the party's bases as well as parliamentary members were looking for a better party image in order to avoid a disaster at the Upper House Parliamentary elections of July 2001.
Koizumi is best-known for his hairstyle and enjoys a cult status similar to that of a rock star - by the way, he is a rock music fan. In March, he said: "People call me a 'henjin' [eccentric], but I am a man of reform". After his election in April, Koizumi had a sensationally positive approval rate, the highest ever for a Kyodo News telephone poll conducted immediately after the formation of a new cabinet. And until today, his numbers remain high.
Koizumi is considered a maverick although he has served 10 terms as a member of the House of Representatives. His mentor was the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, an LDP heavyweight who opposed Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka during a power struggle. The irony is that Koizumi appointed Tanaka's daughter as his Minister of Foreign Affairs. They share a belief in the necessity of economic and structural reforms.
Koizumi pushes for reforms
After his election as Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi stressed the need for "structural reforms without sanctuaries", including economic, fisca, administrative, social and political reforms. Once more, Koizumi presented his favorite plan to privatize the post office which helps to deliver the LDP’s organized rural vote through the influence of the chiefs of local post offices and their families. The postal-savings system is also an important source of cheap funding for the government which, in turn, helps the construction industry, another important section of the LDP's clientele.
Koizumi announced that he would take steps to limit waste, promote recycling and prevent illegal dumping. But at the negotiations regarding the Kyoto protocol, Japan was not very cooperative and asked for further concessions before it agreed to sign it.
Koizumi stressed the importance
of maintaining and strengthening Japan's good relationship with the Republic of Korea
and of ensuring the success of next year's joint hosting of the World Cup
Soccer tournament. But there is presently a scandal about new high school history
textbooks which ignore Japan's past crimes against Koreans and Chinese.
Furthermore, Koizumi announced his intent to travel to the Yasukuni
shrine in Tokyo on August 15, the day of the Japanese capitulation in World
War II, honoring Japan's war dead. Since war criminals are buried there too,
South Korea and China oppose the visit.
Koizumi's confirms his cabinet of April 2001
Masajuro Shiokawa has served 11 terms in the Japanese Diet and is now a cabinet member under a sixth prime minister. He was chief cabinet secretary under the late Takeo Fukuda, transport minister under Zenko Suzuki, education minister in the cabinet of Yasuhiro Nakasone, chief cabinet secretary under the late Sousuke Uno and home affairs minister under Kiichi Miyazawa. Shiokawa lost in the October 1996 Lower House election, but he made a comeback in 2000 at the age of 78. Koizumi appointed him as finance minister. Shiokawa served as Koizumi's campaign chief during the LDP leadership race. He belongs to the Mori faction within the LDP.
Makiko Tanaka, 57 is, like Koizumi, considered a maverick within the LDP. She is not affiliated with any party faction. Her father, the late Kakuei Tanaka, was a former prime minister and one of the most powerful LDP leaders ever. He normalized diplomatic ties between Japan and China in the 1970s. He was forced out of office and disgraced by a bribery scandal in the 1970s. Makiko Tanaka studied at a high school in Philadelphia, USA. She returned to Japan to graduate at Waseda University. She joined a theatrical company with the intention to become an actress. Her father heavily opposed her plan and, therefore, she renounced it. In 1985, her father suffered a stroke and she devoted herself to caring for him. Makiko has served three terms in the Diet. Her popularity helped her husband, Naoki Tanaka, an LDP Upper House member, to make a Diet comeback after being beaten when he had served as a Lower House member for three terms. Makiko Tanaka had supported Koizumi in the LDP presidential race. She has become Japan's first female Foreign Minister. Because of her education at an American high school, she is the first Japanese Foreign Minister to be fluent in English.
Koizumi appointed Heizo Takenaka, a professor of economics at Keio University, as Minister for Economic, Fiscal and IT policy. Takenaka is another advocate of economic structural reform within the cabinet. He is not affiliated with any party. Koizumi confirmed Hakuo Yanagisawa, 65, as State Minister of Financial affairs. Yanagisawa is considered a man who seriously wants to reform the banking and financial sector which still carries a lot of bad loans with it.
As Minister of Defense, Koizumi chose Gen Nakatani, 43, whose grandfather was a Lower House member. Gen Nakatani is a member of the Kato faction within the LDP. Since 1990, he served four terms in the Lower House. He is a National Defense Academy graduate who worked as a Ground Self-Defense Force officer before entering politics. He served as parliamentary vice minister for the National Land Agency, the Post and Telecommunications Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry and was a member of the Diet and LDP defense and security (U.S.-Japanese alliance) committees. This is his first cabinet appointment.
As State Secretary in charge of administrative and regulatory reforms, Koizumi chose in April Nobuteru Ishihara, 44. He is a former television journalist and the son of Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist governor of Tokyo. This is his first cabinet post. Chikara Sakaguchi of New Komeito was already Minister of health, labor and welfare under Mori. Koizumi confirmed him in this position.
The largest LDP faction led by former Prime Minister Hashimoto, who lost the presidential race to Koizumi, had four posts in the previous Mori cabinet, but only two in the Koizumi cabinet. The second-largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Mori, occupies three cabinet posts; Koizumi used to be among its members. The remaining factions - except the one led by Yohei Kono which got none - where given one post each. The LDP's partners in the tripartite coalition, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, were given one cabinet post each, as was the case under Mori.
Koizumi is not as isolated as it seems to some foreign observers since his political ally of the 1991-formed YKK trio - comprising Yamasaki, Kato and Koizumi - is secretary general of the LDP, holding the most important party post. Yamasaki graduated from Waseda University. In 1972, he won his first seat in the House of Representatives. He served as Defense Agency director general, Construction Minister and LDP policy research council chairman. He is a renowned specialist in security policy but lacks the necessary communication skills to transport his ideas effectively.
The LDP General Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi, 71, is an outspoken advocate of financial reform of public corporations. While serving as International Trade and Industry minister in the Hashimoto cabinet, he ordered the investigation of financial transactions involving the Japan National Oil Corporation which revealed that the public corporation was beset by massive non-performing loans.
Koizumi confirmed Yutaka Takeyama and Mikio Aoki as the two top executives of the Upper House caucus. Both are from the largest LDP faction, led by Hashimoto, which is opposed to Koizumi's reform plans. No member of the Hashimoto faction was chosen for the top three party posts in the Lower House.
Important reforms are needed more than ever since Japan's GDP shrunk by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2001 and no improvement is in sight. Japan's debt reached an incredible 130% of GDP or 660 trillion yen by March. Takashi Imai, the head of the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), urged Koizumi to move quickly towards "structural reforms". Hiroshi Okuda, the chairman of the Japan Federation of Employers' Associations (Nikkeiren), made a similar statement. Therefore, substantial reforms may be possible.
However, a large number of LDP Diet
members still opposes Koizumi's reform policy. The
Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party and the small New Conservative Party are
also not natural allies of Koizumi's reform agenda. But the Prime Minister
has one important "argument" on his side: he can dissolve the
parliament and call for new elections if lawmakers try to obstruct his
plans. During his electoral campaign, Koizumi announced that he is
determined to do so if necessary. We will soon find out whether Koizumi is
ready to go the way of "blood, sweat and tears". At the same
time, let's not forget that Japan still has a higher income per capita, a lower crime rate, a healthier
population with a longer life expectancy, better mass transportation,
private savings more than twice as high as the country's GDP and more
equitable income distribution than most other industrial nations -
just to name a few positive elements.