Hi Blog. Don’t know if you heard the news, but former PM Koizumi Junichiro announced last night that he won’t seek reelection for his Diet seat in the upcoming election. NHK called it a retirement, although the Yomiuri podcast this morning quoted him as saying he’ll still be involved in politics, albeit not as a Dietmember. “I’ve already been PM”, he was quoted as saying.
My thoughts: As always, Koizumi shows what a master of timing he is, be it calling an election on one issue (Postal Savings) and sweeping in for a landslide victory (one of the few world leaders in history most anywhere who enjoyed his political honeymoon his last year in office), or knowing when to quit — after becoming one of the few PMs in history to serve a full five-year term. Calling it quits right now is just about the right time in his lifetime (as opposed to people like former PM Nakasone, who was being reelected into his eighties, and had to be told to quit, along with former PM Miyazawa, after being barked at by the media and public opinion at the time that octogenarians can’t represent a younger generation of Japan effectively; I agree, but how ignominious an end after being such political giants).
I consider Koizumi to be the third most effective PM, after 2) Tanaka Kakuei (the architect of our current corrupt LDP porkbarrel system) and of course, 1) Yoshida Shigeru (the person who gave dignity and reasonable credibility back to Japan’s postwar parliamentary system after many, many militarist years, followed by the Occupation). Whatever your politics, these people shaped the future of Japan’s political landscape and established the primacy of their political party, which is ultimately (in this kind of system) their job.
With Koizumi, however, we have had two PMs who have not been able to build upon that. We had Abe, who backtracked on K’s reforms (even welcoming back anti-reformers back into the LDP fold; why the hell did we have the Postal Savings election in 2005 in the first place?) then went nuts. Then Fukuda, whose heart was in the right place regarding issues relating to Debito.org (the Ainu ethnic minority recognition thing was unprecedented, and a stark contrast to Abe’s idiotic treatment of the Comfort Women Issue, not to mention Abe’s reform of the Basic Law of Education which still only guarantees compulsory education to citizens, moreover enshrines love of country as a graded subject), but was saddled with the destruction Abe wrought — after probably the most disastrous election result ever which lost the Upper House and created a year of logjam; Fukuda resigned before he himself went nuts.
Now Aso is in charge. He inherits the legacy of an ineffective LDP that actually still wants Koizumi back (how many times have we ever seen in opinion polls that people want the old guy back in Japan?). According to the Yomiuri podcast this morning, Aso has a cabinet rating (at 49%) lower than Fukuda did at his start (although Aso is still far and away more popular than opposition DPJ’s Ozawa). I expect we’ll see that climb a bit, provided he keeps looking presidential and doesn’t gaffe. But I think Aso’s biggest liability is the impression that people just don’t trust the LDP. The LDP can still claim Koizumi as part of their legacy (as the GOP in the US keeps claiming Lincoln), but the LDP is the TOP (Tired Old Party), and that will be his albatross if he doesn’t strike out and do something charismatically Koizumiesque.
As I mentioned yesterday, Aso is doing better, as far as debito.org is concerned, by not pandering to the rightists and bureaucrats (diddling on about Yasukuni or bashing foreigners on allegations of crime and terrorism), at least in formal policy speeches so far. But now Koizumi’s gone, and is little more than a living Lincoln for many — meaning the LDP has lost an asset. Still, I think the Aso administration is going to make Japanese politics interesting all over again after a couple of lousy years. Or else, he’ll be the one known as the person who handed the reins over to the DPJ. As always, wait and see.
Prognostications on a Friday morning, Arudou Debito in Sapporo
(Too busy to add links to sources right now, will try to get to it later. Apologies.)