TOPICS: Koizumi’s snap poll a risky gamble

Koizumi’s decision to call a snap election on Sep.11 is a risky gamble not only for the controversial leader but also for his ambitious plans to reform the economy and turn Japan into an active player in international politics, say analysts. Survey polls indicate Koizumi is still a strong contender in the upcoming elections to the law-making, Lower House. An NHK television channel poll taken this week shows 47 per cent of those polled support the prime minister against 38 per cent who do not like him. The figures indicate he is popular despite his decision to take his controversial postal reform bill to the people when it was voted out in the Upper House after some members of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) decided not to support it. “I will let the people decide,” he said angrily, before ordering the dissolution of the Diet after losing the vote last week. Taking a step further, Koizumi firmly told the errant politicians they will not be able to contest on LDP tickets. Commentators have called the prime minister ‘wilful’ and ‘disrespectful’ of Japanese constitutional laws.

The postal reform bill, touted by Koizumi as necessary to cut away at redundant post offices, around 14,700, and save on national spending, was bitterly opposed for being too drastic because of the risk of more than 25,000 postal workers losing their jobs. Yet another bone of contention was the future of postal savings — a whopping $250 billion — that are guaranteed by the government. Critics argued that Koizumi’s privatisation bill posed a threat to social security, an aspect they say has been ignored by the prime minister. Analyst Tetsuro Kato, a political scientist at Hitotsubashi University, says the ongoing political chaos is not welcome for Japan as it pushes for a seat at the UN Security Council, apart from dealing with a nuclear threat from North Korea, moving ahead with changes in the constitution and improving relations with China. Koizumi’s reforms symbolised the end to public stability by supporting rapid privatisation and the process has not always brought the best results.

Still as politicians scramble to woo voters, surveys also show that voting for the LDP may remain the preferred choice next month, given the lacklustre opposition and the nagging understanding that reforming the old practices of Japan that has led to a national debt of seven trillion dollars is crucial. This can only be carried out by a strong leader such as Koizumi whose rule. This scenario is watched suspiciously by east Asians who are not happy that under Koizumi, Japan has taken a conservative leaning — he has made it a point to visit Yasukuni Shrine where war criminals are buried, damaging ties with South and North Korea and China. The polls indicate that diplomacy is way below on the list of issues on the election table, with social security and economic gro-wth being the key concerns for the Japanese public, giving Koizumi a lead as long as he can keep up his current image as a man of action. — IPS