August 15, 2005
JAPAN ELECTION: PM KOIZUMI WILL EITHER 'REFORM' THE LDP OR 'DESTROY IT'
** Global outlets agree its upcoming election may "redraw Japan's political landscape."
** Supporters back Koizumi's "risky and daring" efforts to enact "economic and social reform."
** Critics assert Koizumi's "arrogance and stubbornness" may lead to his "political suicide."
** Chinese and Korean papers say Koizumi seeks to strengthen Japan's "nationalistic drift."
'The LDP is breaking down'-- Global papers called Koizumi's decision to call new elections his "biggest political gamble"; it has created a "political vacuum and political instability" in Japan. Outlets agreed with Japan's moderate Yomiuri that Tokyo's "political scene will undergo major changes." Stressing Koizumi's "head-on clash with LDP opponents," writers predicted the election "could divide the LDP." Liberal critics such as Britain's left-of-center Guardian argued the "destruction of the LDP itself would be a blessing for Japan." A few observers expressed a "strong hope" that the "increasingly credible" opposition DPJ could take power.
Postal privatization is 'urgently necessary'-- Pro-Koizumi dailies noted "public sympathy" for both Koizumi's reforms and his "distinctive political style." Austria's independent Der Standard stated "it is to Koizumi's credit that he introduced reform." These papers backed postal privatization, the "centerpiece of his reform agenda," as "key to...improving economic efficiency." Japan's conservative Sankei termed postal reform legislation a "priority task," as its failure "will have an extremely adverse impact on structural reform." Backing Koizumi's promise of "more radical reform," dailies such as Tokyo's business-oriented Nihon Keizai urged "budget pruning" in light of the "dire state of Japan's public finances."
'A risky bet'-- Papers opposing Koizumi judged it "difficult to comprehend" why he called elections after his postal privatization plan failed. Koizumi's "risky decision" was "unthinkable in common-sense terms," said South Korea's independent Joong-Ang Ilbo, and could unleash "unpredictable domestic political consequences." Italy's pro-government Il Giornale noted that Koizumi "risks losing" in the September 11 election. Several observers assailed Koizumi personally, noting his "autocratic leadership style" and "hotheadedness." Spain's centrist La Vanguardia concluded that his "stubbornness" about privatizing the postal services "has left everyone puzzled."
Leaning 'toward right-wing nationalism'-- Citing "widespread dissatisfaction" with Koizumi's foreign policy, regional editorialists worried that Koizumi would "step up right-wing demagoguery as an election strategy." China's official People's Daily advised Koizumi against such "stupid behavior" as visiting Yasukuni shrine to "stimulate more nationalist sentiment...as a means of gaining additional support." Seoul's moderate Hankook Ilbo assailed both Japan's "militaristic past and anachronistic territorial ambitions." Other papers blasted Koizumi's efforts to make Japan "more assertive." Singapore's pro-government Lianhe Zaobao added that Japan's regional diplomacy has been "tense and uncooperative" under Koizumi.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 33 reports from 14 political entities over 9 - 15 August, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
JAPAN: "Japan Should Become A Nation Rich In Vigor And Good Sense"
Liberal Asahi observed (8/15): "The world has changed completely over the past 60 years, particularly in the case of Japan, which rose from the ruins of war and Allied occupation. Over this period, not once did Japan go to war, but instead devoted itself to economic and technological development and creating a new society.... However, Japan at present finds itself in a period of uncertainty. Although the nation has broken free of a prolonged economic slump, the looming budget deficit precludes optimism about a bright future.... Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Koizumi has maintained strong public support perhaps because of his vigor.... Flying the banner of reform, Koizumi continues to stand tall, fearless of adversity or friction. However, Koizumi's vigor and fearlessness have also invited uneasiness. Supporting the US call to join the war on terrorism, Koizumi has sent MSDF ships and GSDF troops to the Indian Ocean and Iraq, respectively. Now the GOJ appears to be at a loss as to how to withdraw troops from Iraq.... Anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and South Korea are also a major source of frustration for Japan.... Allowing this to happen was Japan's biggest diplomatic blunder of the past 60 years. East Asia is in a state of great flux, with the future of rapidly growing China and the Korean Peninsula far from certain.... Japan needs to...reach accords and compromises over issues common to Asian nations, such as energy and the environment. Japan needs to lead the Asian community by showing generosity and composure. This 60-year-old postwar Japan should demonstrate courage and discretion in the Asian community."
"DPJ Should Take One Step Further On Postal Issues"
Conservative Sankei advised (8/12): "The political parties have expedited their efforts to draw up manifestoes.... The DPJ, too, has pushed forward efforts to draw up a draft of manifesto.... Nonetheless...it is obvious that the major point of contention is the privatization of postal services.... The public would see this as the DPJ missing the point.... If the DPJ asserts reduction of the funds, we want them to be clear about the appropriate size of the reduction, and a timetable for carrying out that goal.... The DPJ, in the manifestoes it presented in the preceding general election...flatly said that Japan is a sovereign state led by bureaucrats, and this system has deprived the Japanese public of vitality.... Okada, at first, called for the privatization of the postal services. It has been said that many of the DPJ members support the privatization. It is inevitable that many people see that the party is reluctant...because the DPJ has given consideration to labor unions--its electoral support base. Okada may be overly particular about setting a stage for showdown with Koizumi.... It is high time for the DPJ to address the postal privatization issues directly, and present a counterproposal worthy of being called a manifesto, which is the party's duty to the voters."
"Budget Cutting Must Not Be Forgotten During Election"
Business-oriented Nihon Keizai stated (8/12): "An approaching election does not create a favorable political climate for budget cuts, but the dire state of Japan's public finances demands that the government remain focused on retrenchment and spending reform.... The guideline for fiscal 2006 budget requests, approved by the cabinet on Thursday, offers modestly encouraging signs.... It is certainly debatable whether linking increases in medical care costs to economic growth rates is realistic when the number of patients keeps rising due to the aging of the population and treatment gets more and more sophisticated and costly. But the need of a target to rein in the cost explosion is indisputable.... The challenge for government budget drafters, who must flesh out the spending blueprint in the coming weeks, will be how to secure money for effective measures to mitigate the negative impact of the declining birthrate on the nation's social security system while controlling benefit payouts.... The general election scheduled for September will likely put a lot of political pressure on both the ruling and opposition parties to avoid talking about big spending cuts. But that pressure must be resisted for the sake of the nation's fiscal health. The serious budget ills leave us no choice but to create a small and efficient government. Every political party must present plans for fiscal austerity and spending reform in their election manifestos. Budget pruning must not be forgotten in the rush and confusion of a snap election."
"Do Not Be Swayed By Koizumi's Theatrics"
Liberal Mainichi said (8/11): "First of all, what draws attention is that the public is taking the recent dissolution positively.... Koizumi's easy-to-understand words must be a big factor in pushing up the support rate. In the meantime, Koizumi's style, in which he simplifies matters and press for clear-cut answers, was successful. Koizumi makes a sharp distinction between friend and foe.... This time, Koizumi sets up the DPJ together with the anti-Koizumi faction within the LDP as the 'resistance forces' of reform.... His strategy is to change the focus of the general election to be specifically about the pros and cons of the postal privatization. Nevertheless, the opposition parties are not frightened.... Koizumi says that if the LDP and New Komeito win a majority together, then the coalition will challenge the postal reform again. Therefore, the first thing to do is to show a clear counterproposal for postal reforms. In addition, the oppositions must come up with sharply contrasting measures for fiscal reconstruction, social security, diplomacy, and security. The Lower House election originally symbolizes the choosing of the government, but if concrete measures are not presented, than the eligible voters have no choice.... It can be said that it is a sign of dissatisfaction toward the DPJ for not presenting a focus of confrontation. Koizumi won the first battle of public opinion with a lead, but there is a month before the vote. We would like to watch carefully how each camp will fight so that the real election will not end with Koizumi just winning with popularity votes."
"Koizumi Raises The Stakes"
The liberal English-language Japan Times editorialized (8/9): "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the Lower House on Monday after a rebellion within his Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House killed the postal privatization bills, the centerpiece of his reform agenda. Despite his prompt countermove, Mr. Koizumi's overall political agenda has suffered a big blow.... The decisive division created by the handling of the postal bills raises a strong possibility that the LDP may be split in the coming snap elections. If this development takes place, the LDP's fortunes will be doomed.... One of the reasons for the confusion concerning the postal reform bills, according to politicians who opposed the bills, is that the government and the LDP leadership have failed to sufficiently enlighten the public about the bills' importance. Although Mr. Koizumi attached tremendous importance to the bills, the public did not seem to share his enthusiasm.... As a last resort, Koizumi started warning that he would dissolve the Lower House if the Upper House failed to pass the bills. Mr. Koizumi's move was interpreted by many Upper House members as meddling in the independence of the Upper House. At this stage, opposition to the bills also became an opposition to Mr. Koizumi's 'autocratic' leadership style. The coming snap elections will decide the directions of reform for creating efficient government, reform of the social security system, including pensions, and Japan's relations with neighboring countries. It will most likely usher in a more definitive two-party system in Japan."
"Koizumi's Structural Reform Initiative Challenged"
An editorial in business-oriented Nihon Keizai read (8/9): The coming [snap Lower House] election on September 11 may become a historic event that will result in a change of government and redraw the political map, as was the case in the 1993 Lower House election that ended one-party rule by the LDP because of an intraparty revolt.... Following the Upper House's Monday rejection of postal-privatization bills, Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the Lower House for a snap election. Not even senior LDP officials can guess the outcome of the election, the campaign for which will begin August 30. It appears Koizumi dissolved the Lower House for a snap election to ask voters their opinions on his reforms. However, Mr. Koizumi's reform style, which had always created resistance within his own party, clashed with the traditional LDP way of doing things. The intraparty revolt that grew over PM Koizumi's attempt to pass the postal bills was also a backlash against 'Koizumi-style' politics, and it brought into relief differing views on the appropriateness of reform. While the public had concerns, it gave support to this 'Koizumi-style' reform initiative that was aimed at breaking free of an 'era of obstruction.' Continued high public support rates for the Koizumi cabinet were also an indication of public sympathy with Koizumi's reform policy.... Depending on the outcome of the September 11 Lower House poll, Japan may again enter an era of a major political change. Will Japan aim for a small government or keep the government as it is? Japan will have to make major progress on reform so as to survive as a competitive nation in the future. Should Japan hold the course on diplomatic issues, including Asia policy?"
"Koizumi Diplomacy Questioned"
Liberal Asahi editorialized (8/9): "The unthinkable became a reality with Prime Minister Koizumi's head-on clash with LDP opponents of postal-privatization legislation resulting in his dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election.... We wonder what Mr. Koizumi thinks about his failure to pacify these opponents and unify the ruling party.... Koizumi's diplomacy has caused many problems. His visits to Yasukuni Shrine have made the rift between Japan and China and South Korea wider than it has ever been. Despite this, Mr. Koizumi reportedly has no intention of altering plans to visit the shrine again this year. We cannot ignore the chaos in Iraq, where Japan dispatched the Self-Defense Forces. Japan's chances of becoming a permanent member of the UNSC are hopeless without support from neighboring countries and the US. We are doubtful that the Koizumi government has any diplomatic strategy."
"Dissolution Over Postal Bills--Can Administration That Tackles Pending Issues Be Established?"
Moderate, top-circulation Yomiuri wondered (8/9): "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi presumably concluded that he would have no choice but to dissolve the Lower House and directly consult voters...since the rejection of bills to privatize postal services was tantamount to a vote of no-confidence against him.... However...the reasoning behind the political drama that sparked dissolution of the Lower House is difficult to comprehend.... Depending on the outcome of the upcoming general election, the political scene will undergo major changes, and it remains to be seen whether the alliance between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito will be maintained. If LDP seats are reduced after the election, Koizumi's renomination as prime minister will be in jeopardy.... Even though the postal privatization bills were imperfect, they were essential for moving the country toward economic and social reform. Conversely, the dissolution can only delay the realization of Koizumi's long-held wish of privatizing the postal services.... Koizumi decided that his party will not officially endorse as its candidates LDP lawmakers who voted against the postal bills...these lawmakers may choose to launch a new party. Because the LDP may have to face the election with the party divided in this way...the party will face its most critical situation since its foundation 50 years ago.... Koizumi's decision to dissolve the Lower House was very unusual compared with postwar parliamentary practice.... Koizumi intends to make the postal privatization program the main point of contention in the upcoming election, but the prime minister should not put aside vital issues, such as the economy, social security system reform, national security, and diplomacy toward China and South Korea.... Regarding the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)...the party aiming to take power failed to make its presence visible during the last Diet session.... The party has no counterproposal to the postal privatization bills."
"Diet Dissolution, Snap General Election--Good Opportunity To Resolve Political Distortions"
Liberal Mainichi asserted (8/9): "The upcoming Lower House election will be an important election in which there could be a change in power.... LDP members who voted against the postal privatization bills deserve criticism for electing Koizumi as party president fully aware that postal privatization was his pet policy but turned against him when it came to a showdown.... These members merely took advantage of Koizumi's popularity to get themselves elected, and this is tantamount to belittling the voters.... If the latest development leads to correcting political distortions within the LDP, it would not be such a bad thing.... As Koizumi considers the next general election a national referendum on postal services privatization...he should take this opportunity to return to the 'fundamental principle of turning over postal services from the government to the private sector and rewrite the postal privatization bills, on which compromises have already been made substantially, and present them to the voters.... The election will focus not only on postal services privatization but also on the pension system, fiscal and tax reform, politics and money, the Yasukuni Shrine issue, stalled diplomatic relations with the PRC and the ROK, the DPRK nuclear issue and the abduction issue, Japan's bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC, what to do about the Self-Defense Forces deployed in Iraq, and constitutional reform.... This will be an election in which voters can choose which party it wants to be in power in an era of a two-party system.... The DPJ should realize that it had nothing to with bringing about the latest Diet dissolution.... Only after the DPJ resolves political distortions within itself can it play in the same game with the LDP.... The latest turmoil over postal services privatization was worthwhile if it leads to changing the stalled situation of Japanese politics."
"Postal Privatization-Related Diet Dissolution--Carrying Out Structural Reforms Essential"
Conservative Sankei opined (8/9): "The Koizumi administration's challenging of 'taboos' that past administrations were unable to tackle carries great significance.... Those who voted against the postal privatization bills merit criticism...it is a great crime because postal services privatization is a priority task for Japan and the defeat of the bills will have an extremely adverse impact on structural reform in general.... Establishing sustainable government finances is the only way for Japan to make it through a historical turning point in which the nation is facing a sharp drop in the birthrate and a rapidly aging society...this requires substantial cuts in government spending as well as substantial tax increases.... Voters must re-think the significance of the defeat of the postal privatization bills.... Politicians must reconsider the current bicameral system, as most of the Upper House LDP members who voted against the postal privatization bills were elected under the banner of Koizumi reform.... The upcoming election will be an opportunity for the LDP to transform itself into a true reform-minded party by separating those opposed to postal services privatization from pro-reform members.... As for the DPJ, which voted against the postal privatization bills, we are doubtful of their ability especially because even though DPJ President Katsuya Okada has called for postal services privatization and changing the status of postal workers from government employees to non-government workers, the party's official stance on this issue announced in March failed to reflect this.... The party was also ultimately unable to present a counterproposal.... Voters must hand down their ruling at the upcoming election by giving serious thought and determining what reforms are necessary for Japan."
"Postal Bills Rejected, 9/11 General Election To Be Held; LDP Is Breaking Down"
Liberal Tokyo Shimbun concluded (8/9): "Koizumi dissolved the Lower House as the result of Upper House rejection of the postal privatization bills.... The dissolution might have been the worst-case scenario for both the prime minister and LDP members opposed to the bills.... Even if the LDP led by Koizumi wins the general election, the Upper House that rejected the postal bills will not be changed. Because of this, the outlook on the future is unclear.... If the prime minister's decision to carry out dissolution and a general election damages national interests, responsibility for this will fall on the prime minister and the LDP, which have been playing a game of chicken.... Political confusion over the postal bills indicated that the LDP is breaking down.... The LDP lacks members who can replace Koizumi and asserts that the LDP a decade ago had the power to make political changes before the situation developed into the current state.... Regarding Koizumi's remark after the dissolution that the LDP will aim at winning the majority with New Komeito, instead of aiming at a working majority...such a goal is unprecedented and indicates that the LDP cannot be called a party in power.... The rejection of the postal bills means the cessation of Koizumi structural reform.... The cessation may give the impression that reform efforts in Japan cannot be promoted, and this may have a negative impact on the economy.... People will be troubled if economic improvement is hindered...so parties should present sound reform plans in the election campaign."
CHINA: "Do China-Japan Relations Have A Chance Warm Up?"
Tan Zhong commented in official international International Herald Leader (Guoji Xianqu Daobao) (8/11): “If the Japanese doves get into power, it will surely be helpful for the release of tension in China-Japan relations. The doves would change Koizumi’s pro-U.S., pro-Taiwan trend and tough attitude toward China. It will not tread in the U.S.’ steps. Regarding the Yasukuni Shrine, the doves would not be as radical as the Liberal Democratic Party. If the new leader could promise not to visit the shrine, it might also pave the road for senior level visits between China and Japan. However, one cannot expect the relations to improve vastly. Even if Koizumi leaves office, there will not be radical changes to China-Japan relations since a structural conflict would still exist. There are voices in the U.S. calling to keep Koizumi in place. Though the U.S. government did not express this opinion, many American experts have expressed worries that if Koizumi or the LDP lose the election, the U.S. would lose a Japanese leader who has had close cooperation with President Bush. The U.S.-Japan relationship would be changed.”
"Koizumi Cabinet Is Going To Collapse"
Zhang Lixia, Liu Fuchen and Zhao Xin noted in official international Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao) (8/10): “The political future of Koizumi will be decided by if the Liberal Democratic Party can win in the election of the upper house of the Diet. Analysts think there is the possibility of internal power struggles before the election. Such chaos in Japan’s political circles is a general eruption of conflicts that have built up for many years. It is also due to Koizumi’s tough character. His reform plan for the Japanese postal service is a reallocation of vested interests, mostly within the LDP. Hence it is natural that Koizumi encounters opposition from within the party. Koizumi has conducted his style to the extreme: stubborn disposition, acting independently, being unable to accept others’ opinions, not giving up until he accomplishes what he wants, etc. His arbitrary manner with regard to the postal service reform, making no compromise to opposition party, has caused conflicts to break out. His image as a powerful leader started to lose support within the LDP. Japanese media reported he might use Yasukuni Shrine visit to gain more votes. The ROK media indicated it might damage the ROK-Japanese relations. The ROK hopes the Democratic Party could come to power, so that it may foster a friendly relationship between the ROK and Japan.”
"A Road That Cannot Be Traveled"
Wang Ping commented in official People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao) (8/9): “The reform of the Japanese postal service has been frustrated due to the opposition of the upper house of the Diet. The Koizumi administration is therefore in crisis.... The election planned on September 11 holds the possibility of regime change, and also of an internal split in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Koizumi, who is skillful in making use of people’s support for him, cannot relax. Some persons with ulterior goals even suggested Koizumi should take this sensitive moment to visit Yasukuni Shrine in order to stimulate more nationalist sentiment among certain Japanese as a means of gaining additional support. In fact, people are clear about what would be the result of such stupid behavior. Few Japanese politicians have attempted to use a Yasukuni Shrine visit to diffuse political crises. It is destined to be a road that cannot be traveled. Not only will the many victims [of World War II] in Asia not allow it, most of the Japanese will not allow it either. In a recent poll, Koizumi’s disapproval rate is increasing continuously. This is the common voice of the people. Koizumi, if he just ignores it, would finally be beaten down by public opinion.”
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Koizumi Has Nothing To Lose With Reform Drive"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post said (8/10): "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has thrown down the gauntlet to opponents of economic reform in Japan by calling a snap election for the lower house on September 11. Most observers expect him to secure a significant victory. A strong win would be a severe rebuff to the conservative old guard of Mr. Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which once exercised control over the government from behind the scenes and has tried to undermine much of Mr. Koizumi's reform program. It would be seen as a welcome signal from the electorate that it has no appetite for a return to the pork-barrel politics and patronage that Mr. Koizumi has resisted. And it would strengthen his mandate to push through reforms during the remainder of his time in office.... Koizumi has already said he will not seek another term as LDP leader in October next year, and if returned to office would serve little more than another year as prime minister. He will have nothing to lose by pushing more radical reform."
TAIWAN: "Koizumi's Solution A Lesson"
The conservative, pro-unification English-language China Post declared (8/11): "Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision on Monday to dissolve the lower house of Japan's parliament and hold a re-election on Sept. 11 was indeed the biggest gamble of his career. Should he fail to win a majority in the new election, he would certainly have to step down to take responsibility. Also, his Liberal Democratic Party could thus be forced into yielding governing power to the main opposition Democratic Party. The once most popular Japanese leader has seen his approval ratings continue to plummet to new lows in the last two years or so because of widespread dissatisfaction with the way he handled major domestic and foreign policies. His annual visits to Yasukuni shrine, for example, have strained relations with neighboring countries, particularly China which has become a most important trading partner for Japan. For Taiwan, Koizumi's decision to call a new election and ask the people to decide whether they want to support him or his parliamentary opponents over the controversial postal bills could serve as a lesson to our ruling and opposition parties in resolving critical differences. A no-confidence vote by the opposition-controlled Legislature or a call for re-election by President Chen Shui-bian could be the most effective way to end the prolonged political fighting over a range of controversial bills, including the arms procurement program."
MALAYSIA: "Poll In Japan Reflects Predicament Of Ruling Parties In Asia"
Leading Petaling Jaya-based Chinese-language government-influenced Sin Chew Daily held (8/10): "The failure of Junichiro Koizumi to pass the postal reform bills in Japan has triggered the premier to dissolve the parliament.... This is political suicide for Koizumi. Perhaps Koizumi is politically tired now since his reform plan is getting nowhere. Koizumi has long wanted to bring social and economic reform to the country and his desire to privatize the postal service is just one of his great reform dreams. In diversifying the huge postal service, Koizumi hoped such a reform could increase efficiency...and boost the growth of Japan's domestic economy. Yet like in many countries in Asia, political corruption, cronyism, and close business links between the government and private sector in Japan have made any governmental reform difficult.... The political instability in Japan might affect its economic growth. The financial sector in Japan at present is concerned that the failure of Koizumi in pushing out the postal reform might also hinder a number of crucial reforms in the country. This in turn would weaken Japan's economy and create a negative impact on the world economy. Apparently the Liberal Democratic Party led by Koizumi has failed to disassociate itself from the money politics predicament that is a common practice in many ruling parties in the region. With disappointment coming from the Japanese voters, we are afraid that Koizumi might even lose his controlling power in the parliament. The political vacuum and political instability in Japan is like a mirror that reflects the concern of many ruling parties in Asia. It is an alarming election for the region to watch."
SINGAPORE: "Outcome Of Poll In Japan Can Affect Its Future Ties With Region"
Pro-government Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao opined (8/10): "Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi has dissolved the lower house after his postal reform bills failed to get through the upper house. When Koizumi was still a new prime minister of Japan, he did say that should his own Liberal Democratic Party attempt to block his reform plan; he would in return make the Liberal Democratic Party miserable. Koizumi's arrogance and stubbornness in dealing with both domestic and international affairs might indeed bring the downfall of his party.... Judging Japan's recent foreign relations...Koizumi has indeed failed to handle many of his foreign affairs issues amiably. The Sino-Japan relationship and Japan-Korea diplomatic ties have remained tense and uncooperative since Koizumi became prime minister.... Koizumi also lacks the will power and perseverance to establish good working relationships with Russia and North Korea.... The coming election in Japan will determine not only Koizumi and his party's political future; it will also determine the direction of Japan's social and economic reform as well as Japan's bilateral ties with its neighboring countries. Should the Liberal Democratic Party fail to lead the country this time, it would also signify that the political arena of Japan would emerge into a two-party system to lead the nation ahead."
SOUTH KOREA: "A Political Gamble In Japan"
Park Cheol-hee wrote in independent Joong-Ang Ilbo (8/12): "Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made the unexpected decision to dissolve the lower house of the Diet.... After the postal privatization bills...were rejected in the House of Councilors...Koizumi immediately dissolved the lower house as if he had been waiting for the chance. Koizumi took the rejection of the bills as a personal vote of non-confidence. An ordinary politician would have attempted to make a political compromise by extending deliberation on the bills, or would have tendered the general resignation of his cabinet.... But stubborn Mr. Koizumi pushed forward without listening to any advice.... What Mr. Koizumi did was unthinkable in common-sense terms.... Furthermore, the coming general election in September presages a rift in the Liberal Democratic Party.... This is a tremendous gamble.... The Koizumi administration has done a number of things that have reflected poorly upon it.... Koizumi's diplomacy with other Asian countries is at a low point because of his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.... If, as rumored, he presses ahead with a visit to the shrine...in order to secure support from the country's conservatives, he will be giving the opposition party ammunition with which to attack him.... The result of the election could be upheaval in Japanese politics.... The Liberal Democratic Party will be divided.... Contrary to his wish, Mr. Koizumi is very likely to be in a situation in which he will have to resign. If this happens, the autocratic Mr. Koizumi is likely to be replaced by a moderate, harmonious peacemaker.... If the opposition Democratic Party of Japan wins a substantial number of seats, but not a majority, there is a possibility it could be joined by other minority parties and defectors from the Liberal Democrats to create a coalition.... This is the most plausible scenario.... Finally, there is a chance the Democratic Party could do better than expected and win a majority.... That would surely be a harbinger of change in Japanese politics."
"Koizumi's Risky Decision"
The independent English-language Korea Herald opined (8/10): "The first thing that comes to the mind of Koreans watching the political upheaval in Japan is whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.... Having dissolved the lower house of parliament and announced a snap election, Koizumi must calculate how many votes his Liberal Democratic Party would gain from Japanese veterans and rightist constituents if he pays homage to the shrine.... Koizumi came to power in 2001 with a campaign pledge to visit Yasukuni on the anniversary of Japanese surrender in the war, and he fulfilled the promise each year.... It is a risky decision for Koizumi to call an election after suffering a defeat in the upper house vote on his major reform bill to split and privatize Japan Post.... The bill narrowly passed the lower house where as many as 51 LDP members voted against it. As these defectors would not win party endorsement in the forthcoming elections, the field will be very much open...and the opposition DPJ has a strong hope of securing a majority.... Whether Japanese voters will ever push the LDP out of power is much in doubt, but splits in the long-ruling party over Koizumi's reform plan could still drastically change the picture of Japanese politics. His audacious style of leadership and his call for a more assertive Japan in the world may inspire support from conservative Japanese voters but an outright turn to the right such as with a war shrine visit...could rather meet a backlash among conscientious Japanese who favor smoother relations with neighboring countries."
"Turmoil In Tokyo"
Moderate Hankook Ilbo speculated (8/9): "Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi made his biggest political gamble Monday by dissolving the Lower House and calling snap elections. Ostensibly, the move was in response to the Diet’s rejection of Koizumi’s call for postal reform...long an administrative goal. Underneath it, however, is his attempt to break up old factional politics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and redraw Japan’s political landscape. What concerns Tokyo’s neighbors is how the domestic political struggle will affect its foreign policy.... Chances are said to be greater than ever for a transfer of power to the opposition. Even if the voters endorse Koizumi by keeping the LDP in power, however, Japan’s politics will not likely remain the same.... Koizumi has committed himself to a program of small government and the privatization of public corporations--traits of neo-liberal economics. Politically, the Japanese leader has long leaned toward right-wing nationalism. Since Koizumi took office four years ago, Japan has been at odds with its neighbors over its militaristic past and anachronistic territorial ambitions.... Koizumi’s popularity stems from his undiplomatic assertiveness. What is worrying is the possibility that the Japanese leader would step up right-wing demagoguery as an election strategy.... If he pays homage to the nation’s war dead at Yasukuni, including some World War II war criminals, on Aug. 15 for political purposes...it will seriously damage Tokyo’s ties with Seoul and Beijing. The political turmoil in Tokyo has come at a diplomatically sensitive time.... We hope Japan’s domestic politics will not further adversely affect the six-way talks. It’s a relief the opposition DPJ puts greater emphasis on its relationship with Asian countries. But it is not certain how far the largest opposition party can and would go in resisting the nationalistic drift gripping Japanese society."
BRITAIN: "Koizumi's Postal Ballot"
An editorial in the conservative Daily Telegraph read (8/9): "Mr. Koizumi is right to see post office reform as the key to reducing the size of government and thereby improving economic efficiency. In taking on the diehards in his party, such as Shizuka Kamei, he has shown courage. Japan is slowly emerging from more than a decade of stagnation and recession, with output rising, unemployment falling and land prices beginning to rise in Tokyo. Passage of the postal bill would add force to the argument that the country has finally turned the corner."
"Koizumi's Last Post"
The left-of-center Guardian argued (8/9): "For nearly 15 years Japan has been cast in a funk following the souring of its economic miracle and the bursting of history's most spectacular property bubble. The end of the LDP's grip on power and the destruction of the LDP itself would be a blessing for Japan, and the best way of awakening from its malaise."
"High Noon In Japan: Japanese Voters Should Back Koizumi"
The conservative Times stated (8/9): "The debacle in the Diet puts Japan at a crossroads: the choice between smaller government or the old-style high-spending big government. In fact, it is the LDP, challenged by the increasingly credible Democrats, that faces a moment of truth--its most serious since losing office temporarily a decade ago. Can it rid itself of the factionalism that puts party above national interest, and of the conservatism that threatens to hold back?"
ITALY: "The Stakes In Koizumi’s Game"
Alberto Pasolini Zanelli noted in pro-government, leading center-right Il Giornale (8/10): “It’s becoming a custom among the leaders of the West, or a contagious disease: risky early elections.... The Japanese banking system is in crisis, and it’s anemic simply because they are missing small-time savers. Koizumi wants to put them back in competition with foreign institutions. In order to do this he considers it necessary to decapitate the post office. Or rather, to quarter it, dividing it into four separate companies with different functions, all put into the hands of private business.... Koizumi decided to run the risk that he considers necessary to pull Japan out of economic stagnation that has lasted now at least 10 years and has constrained it put its ambitions on the back burner to contend the world supremacy of the US. The cure that he proposes is less popular than his personality. And he thus conducts an electoral campaign of mudslinging. And he knows that he risks losing. The consequences would go beyond the postal account. The democratic opposition party, The Minshuto, is also proposing a decrease in connections with the US, and an increase in those with China and the UN and, to begin, the pullout of Japanese soldiers from Iraq.”
RUSSIA: "Koizumi Up Against Own Party"
Andrey Ivanov commented in business-oriented Kommersant (8/9): “Privatizing or not privatizing Japan Post makes no difference since the idea is strictly political. It is an open secret that the government often uses Japan Post private investors’ money to patch up holes in the budget. Throughout the nearly half-century of its rule, the Liberal Democratic Party has spent postal funds on public works, building roads, bridges and other infrastructure, often unnecessary, with the sole purpose of demonstrating concern for the people. Prime Minister Koizumi thinks this needs to be stopped. His reasons are anybody’s guess. Rumor has it that he bears a grudge against his ‘party comrades’ for having held him in secondary positions for much too long. After he became Prime Minister in 2001, Koizumi blamed the LDP for all of Japan’s woes and promised to either reform his party or destroy it altogether. It looks as if he may succeed in doing the latter, as a split over postal reform may cause the LDP to lose power and pave the way for long-awaited reform in the country.”
"Koizumi’s September 11"
Andrey Terekhov judged in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (8/9): “Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi risks losing power as soon as next month. Yesterday he announced his decision to dissolve parliament and call early elections on September 11, with unpredictable results for his Liberal Democratic Party. It could be that President Vladimir Putin, planning to visit Japan next November, will meet not with Koizumi but with his political opponent in the Democratic Party, Mr. Okada.”
AUSTRIA: "The 'Lion of Tokyo' Rebels"
Susanna Bastaroli analyzed in centrist Die Presse (8/9): "Koizumi's decision to call new elections despite the deteriorating poll results is more than a reaction to the failed privatization of the ailing state postal system: It is a declaration of war against the hardliners in his own party--the Liberal Democrats (LDP) that have held power for half a century--and their adversity towards reforms.... This controversy could divide the LDP and that would be Koizumi's doing. The ambitious Prime Minister made clear when he took office in April 2003 that he intended to do more than just keep his party in power. He wanted to revitalize the country that was stuck in an economic crisis--at his party's expense if necessary. He kept his promise. Against massive resistance he reformed the pension system and curtailed public building projects. The cure seemed to work. The economy was gaining ground. The privatization of the postal system would have furthered this development. Even a new government will not be able to abandon the path of reform. More important still: In September, the power monopoly of the LDP could come to an end. Now is the chance for normalization in Japan."
"The Price Of Obstinacy"
Andrea Waldbrunner wrote in independent Der Standard (8/9): "Junichiro Koizumi put all his eggs into one basket. By doing so, the Japanese Prime Minister lost all he stood for. He buried his prestigious project, the privatization of the Japanese postal system--the world's largest financial institution--rather than yield an inch.... How the urgently necessary reform of the pension and health system as well as the consolidation of the budget could succeed is beyond the imagination of even experienced observers. Nobody knows how the voters are going to react. The insecurity on the domestic front is also reflected in foreign policy. Despite dwindling prospects, Japan still wants a seat on the UNSC. Instead of finding a consensus with its neighbor, ever more powerful China, it prefers to steer a confrontation course and utter ill-considered sound bites. South Korea is essentially subjected to the same treatment. However, there is a chance for a new beginning in Japan and it is to Koizumi's credit that he introduced reform into his country. That this cure might no longer work could be the price of his obstinacy."
HUNGARY: "The Curtain Falls In Tokyo"
Tibor Varkonyi maintained in liberal-leaning Magyar Hirlap (8/12): "After the surprise a large number of analysts opined that the brutality (they used this word) of the Prime Minister [Koizumi] and his roughness risking to the end can be regarded as a misuse of authority, and that it was hotheadedness considering the position of the government. It is possible that when in 2001 Koizumi became a Prime Minister and mentioned the privatization of the post as a priority in his agenda it met with a favorable reception, but ever since many of his supporters have turned their coats. The decision of the very quick-tempered Prime Minister [to call for new elections and nominate only those representatives who supported him] was also perceived obscure since it can have unpredictable domestic political consequences. It cannot be ruled out that the Liberal Democrat Party that has been ruling for half a century might lose power.... This stubbornness was not a sign of wisdom. It represents instead that 'all or nothing' politics is not only blinding but shows a lack of maturity as well. He who seeks power without limits can easily put himself out of reach.“
IRELAND: "Japan Goes To The Polls"
The center-left Irish Times editorialized (8/12): "Japan's forthcoming snap general election on 9/11 is being persuasively billed as the most important since the end of the second World War by commentators there.... The election bids fair to break up and regroup its party system along more ideological lines--or at least to begin such a process of fundamental change. Mr Koizumi...has had a distinctive political style as a dominant leader rather than the normal prime ministerial role as a temporary broker of consensus between the Liberal Democrats' clientelist factions attached to particular ministries.... Koizumi lost this week's vote when 37 LDP members of parliament revolted against his privatisation bill. He has expelled them and gone to the country in a daring and risky venture which puts the issue directly to the electorate. Japanese politics may be forced to regroup as a result along more ideological lines, between market liberals and those who support continued social protection through existing or adapted mechanisms. There is no certainty about who will win this contest or how long it will take, although Mr Koizumi is admired for his daring. Such a political realignment would boost economic reform and restructuring--and may be hastened by definite signs of economic recovery in Japan after a decade or more of stagnancy. This is largely driven by growing trade with China. It presents Mr Koizumi with an acute political dilemma later this month as to whether to pay another visit to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo commemorating Japan's war dead. Such a visit would inflame relations with Beijing and could upset the election campaign. Suddenly Japan's politics become more interesting as a result of these events. The scale of potential change flowing from a Koizumi victory or defeat will probably define them for a long time to come. This includes the foreign policy arena, since the opposition Democrats have pledged to withdraw Japanese troops from Iraq.”
SPAIN: "Koizumi Goes Into Play"
Centrist La Vanguardia held (8/9): "The Prime Minister Koizumi...has been faced on various occasions by the 'establishment' of his party and country. But on this occasion he has gone a little far, perhaps too far. His stubbornness to privatize the postal services has left everyone puzzled. In agreement with his ultraliberal ideology, Koizumi maintains that the privatization allows for a reorientation toward the private sector towards the enormous sums of mail, which would encourage investments, and would brake the inefficiency of the public sector and commit the state to financial discipline.... Koizumi has missed his shot, and the elections of September will be critical for the LDP and for Japan."
"Koizumi's Risky Bet"
Left-of-center El País declared (8/9): "In Japan, the calling of elections, anticipated for September, is a risky bet for Junichiro Koizumi.... The offer, for Koizumi, has resulted in some of the lowest (opinion poll) moments for Japanese leader during his the last two decades. His popularity has been reduced by half. This reflects the citizens' discomfort with a Prime Minister who has not launched the economy, although in recent months the signs are encouraging, and whose priorities are not shared. A lot more important than the privatization of the postal services to Japanese voters are pensions and foreign policy, where Tokyo has specific quarrels with China and South Korea. In this sense also, the hasty elections next month represent the biggest risk in Koizumi's career."
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