More Koizumi coup speculation
Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 19, 2008
Political realignment has now started. That’s a 100% certainty.
- Iijima Isao, former principal aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, rumors have been sprouting like weeds in the junkyard of contemporary Japanese politics about former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s return to active involvement by spearheading a broad realignment among the parties. It started with a trial balloon from his former aide Iijima Isao that suggested Mr. Koizumi would be interested in briefly leading a government himself before giving way to someone else.
Mr. Koizumi then formed a policy study group with the participation of former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko (LDP Machimura faction) and Maehara Seiji (DPJ Maehara/Edano group), current vice-president and the former head of the Democratic Party of Japan, the primary opposition party. He said at the time that both were potential prime ministers.
Consider that Mr. Koizumi produced the political spectacle of a lifetime by orchestrating a landslide for his party in the 2005 lower house election, in part by recruiting intelligent and attractive women to run for seats in the Diet. Consider also that Mr. Maehara’s outlook is congruent in some ways with that of the Koizumi/reform wing of the LDP (he would amend the Constitution to permit self-defense). That sketches the outline for a possible realignment script directed by Mr. Koizumi with two understudies waiting in the wings. It would not be the first time in Japan two prime ministers had been lined up and ready to go before either took office.
Speculation grew last month with the publication of an article in Shukan Gendai about a “Koizumi coup”, orchestrated with the help of Koga Makoto (Faction leader), chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Council. It suggested that the former prime minister might throw his weight behind Watanabe Yoshimi (LDP; no faction), the Minister of State for Financial Services and Regulatory Reform, rather than Ms. Koike.
Now that the hotbed of coals has been created, Sentaku magazine in its May issue ran this article translated by the Japan Times examining the possibility of–get ready for it–Mr. Koizumi elbowing Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo out of office and replacing him with Koike Yuriko.
According to the scenario envisaged by Koizumi, Fukuda will step down in late May or early June (after the international conference in Yokohama on assistance to Africa) to take responsibility for the political impasse.
The LDP presidency then will be fought between Aso (Taro)[faction leader], regarded as a political “thoroughbred,” and Koike, often referred to as a “wild horse.” The latter will win and become Japan’s first female head of government.
After hosting the G8 summit meeting in July, she will dissolve the Lower House and call a general election. The LDP will campaign under the slogan of working in harmony with the opposition camp (minus Ozawa).
Although the present coalition of the LDP and Komeito is set to lose its two-thirds majority in the Lower House, it nevertheless will win more seats than the DPJ, forcing Ozawa to resign.
The subsequent formation of a new coalition among the LDP, DPJ and Komeito will set the stage for the Diet to enact a series of important legislative measures such as tax reform, social security overhaul and a permanent law to dispatch the Self-Defense Force troops overseas — all of which have been held captive to a legislative standstill.
It’s now beginning to seem as if the start of subscription sales for a new season of the Koizumi Theater (a reference to the former prime minister’s taste for dramatic action) is no longer a question of if but when.
The Sentaku article notes that many in business in political and business circles view Ms. Koike as a lightweight, to put it generously. Putting aside her qualifications for the job, more than a few people in Japan would view her as a realistic option. Mr. Koizumi’s successful use of female candidates in the 2005 election was a coup of another sort, so the precedent exists. It is not as cynical a strategy as it might seem; his older sister is one of his closest confidantes, and he is known for being comfortable with women in politics. That’s not always the case with men of his generation in Japan.
Backing Ms. Koike would immediately create positive broadcast-media buzz that would go a long way toward facilitating the success of his endeavor. That’s what happened in 2005, and it could happen again. A local DPJ official told me last month that polls showed there was a direct correlation between support for Mr. Koizumi and the amount of television watched, regardless of the educational level of the viewer. In other words, the more a person sits in front of the TV, the more likely that person is to be a Koizumi supporter.
And this strategy would certainly attract a higher percentage of the female vote than the LDP usually receives.
Also to be considered is that Ms. Koike does not have a long career in the LDP. In fact, she was a member of Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party when it was part of a governing coaltion with the LDP. Mr. Ozawa and some of the members later joined the opposition DPJ, but she stuck with the LDP instead. That will work to her favor with part of the electorate, but to her disadvantage with some members of the old LDP establishment. Which in turn would work to her favor with still more of the electorate.
Sentaku had this to say about Ozawa Ichiro’s part in the scenario:
…the LDP is in dire need of a working relationship with the DPJ in one form or another through a non-Ozawa route within the DPJ. The biggest stumbling block is that nobody within the LDP leadership appears able to oust him from the DPJ, with the possible exception of Koizumi himself.
The next question is how Koizumi would identify and attack Ozawa’s weaknesses. Although Ozawa keeps saying he would force Fukuda to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election, he is not at all certain that his party would win. His rhetoric for an early election is just a tactic to unite the party under his leadership.
The ultimate goal of Ozawa is to win support from all intraparty factions, get re-elected as the party leader uncontested in September and then work in earnest toward a general election in or after October.
One LDP scenario to counter this strategy would be to call a general election before September. The governing coalition may lose the two-thirds majority in the Lower House, but as long as the LDP wins more seats than the DPJ, Ozawa’s position within his own party would be weakened so much that he would not be able to seek re-election as DPJ leader.
The LDP might not have to be the ones to get Mr. Ozawa out of the way, and it would be no great chore for anyone to identify and attack his weaknesses. Since the DPJ’s landslide upper house election victory last summer, Mr. Ozawa has squandered the party’s chances to form a government with his erractic behavior and obstructionist tactics in the Diet instead of proactively offering a credible alternative. There is already talk of efforts underway in the DPJ to oust him from the party presidency in the upcoming September election.
Speculation about forcing Prime Minister Fukuda to walk the red-carpeted plank later this year may still be premature. Just this morning, the Nishinippon Shimbun ran an analysis that suggested some in the LDP want to keep Mr. Fukuda in office for as long as possible if he can maintain his balance. One source remarked that even if Mr. Fukuda flew at a low altitude, at least he would be aloft.
Former Foreign Minister Aso appears to be the front-runner in the race to succeed Fukuda, although he is not considered strong enough to compete head-on against Ozawa.
I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Political views aside, Mr. Aso seems to be a Happy Warrior type who genuinely enjoys retail-level campaigning. In contrast, any political activity that involves interacting with the public is a serious handicap for Mr. Ozawa. He has difficulty dealing with any situation that does not involve the boys in the backroom. Yet it is astonishing that some people would have you believe that Mr. Ozawa has charisma. If you ever see anyone seriously try to make that claim, it’s time to turn the page, change the channel, or move on to the next website.
Sentaku is a monthly magazine available only by annual subscription. It is not sold at newstands. Reading a copy requires forking over the money for 12 issues, like it or not. I sent them an e-mail to inquire about buying a back issue to see what the magazine was like, but they wouldn’t even do that.
Since this article mostly recapitulates information and speculation found in other articles in the daily, weekly, and monthly press without offering much in the way of original insight, it is puzzling that Sentaku would base its approach to potential readers on exclusivity.