JIN-278 -- Koizumi, Takenaka and a Long Hot Summer

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 278
Thursday, June 24, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Koizumi, Takenaka and a Long Hot Summer

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Koizumi, Takenaka and a Long Hot Summer

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has stumbled badly in recent opinion
polls and faces a severe backlash from voters enraged by scandal, turmoil
over the country's policy on Iraq and flawed pension reforms.

With campaigning for elections on July 11 set to start today, political
analysts predict at least a 30 percent swing away from the ruling
Liberal Democratic Party to the newly invigorated Democratic Party of
Japan -- a result that would give the main opposition party slightly
more than 50 of 121 seats being contested for the Upper House.

An attempt to divert attention from the controversial pensions debate
came on Tuesday when Heizo Takenaka, the unelected Financial Services
Minister and Mr Koizumi's best-known prot馮・ announced his candidacy
for the House of Councillors election with a promise in rough Japanese
that he would 'smash the bureaucracy to pieces."

For two years, Takenaka, the former university professor most closely
associated with the painful reform of Japan's financial industry, was a
figure of public loathing. But now he is praised for dragging the country
out of recession. Announcing his decision, he said: "I've taken
bashing after bashing, and still I want more reform."

Takenaka's decision to run represents a gamble for Koizumi, pitting
Japan's nascent economic recovery against a series of deeply unpopular
policy decisions.

Public support for Koizumi has dropped suddenly, affected most of
all by pension reforms and Japanese troop deployment in Iraq. One poll
showed his personal approval plunging from 54 percent to just 40
percent within a month; he enjoyed an 85 percent approval rating when
he took power three years ago.

Cabinet sources said that, as well as trying to make the economy a
focus of the election, the Takenaka candidacy served another purpose:
grooming a popular figure for voters when Koizumi's lustre fades.

Previously most effective as a technocrat, Takenaka on Tuesday
demonstrated the ability to produce populist soundbites, using the
same uncharacteristically blunt Japanese to promise "to work up a
sweat" in parliament.

Prepare for a long, hot summer.

-- The Editors


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Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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