Takenaka enters Upper House race on LDP ticket

by

Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka agreed Wednesday to run in the July 11 House of Councilors election as a proportional representation candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party.

“I’d like to run (in the election) to strongly advocate structural reform policies for the nation,” Takenaka told reporters at a Tokyo hotel after emerging from talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe.

For many LDP lawmakers, Takenaka might be yesterday’s enemy easily turned into today’s friend for their convenience.

Takenaka, 53, a former Keio University economic professor, has been a target of severe criticism from a number of LDP lawmakers for his fiscal austerity and aggressive financial reform policies. Many party members once strongly urged Koizumi to sack him.

But the apparent hope of the LDP is that the former regular TV commentator, known for his expertise in explaining economic matters, can gather votes for the LDP and help a number of LDP candidates get elected.

In the previous Upper House election in 2001, Yoichi Masuzoe, an international politics scholar and former TV personality, ran on the LDP’s proportional representation ticket and captured 1.59 million votes — the largest number of votes won by a single candidate in that election.

“I think he is the right man for the job of explaining structural reforms that the Koizumi Cabinet is promoting,” Koizumo said.

Koizumi said he will reappoint Takenaka as a Cabinet member even after the Upper House election, calling him “an indispensable man.”

Koizumi has said he will reshuffle the Cabinet sometime after the election.

Until several months ago, many LDP senior executives and faction leaders were pushing Koizumi to remove Takenaka from the post. They said the policies pursued by Takenaka are hurting small companies by imposing overly strict lending restrictions on ailing financial institutions.

Takenaka was also bashed by members of the ruling coalition for advocating an austere fiscal policy to curb snowballing government debts.

But those voices have subsided. Koizumi has continued to defend Takenaka and the economy is starting to show signs of a much-awaited recovery.

“There were calls for his resignation. Some people said it’s outrageous to appoint a nonpolitician as a minister,” Koizumi said. “But I think that if he becomes a Diet member, few people would make such an argument.”

Asked about the contradiction of running for the LDP after its members had strongly criticized him, Takenaka said the party has undergone great changes to become a proreform force.

He said, “As the prime minister says, the LDP is really changing now.”