NONCOMMITTAL ON IRAQ, PENSIONS, TAXES, YASUKUNI

Beyond postal stance, Koizumi mum on policies

by Reiji Yoshida

Security, the will of the Iraqi government and cooperation with multinational forces — most notably the United States — are factors to be considered when Japan decides whether to extend the Self-Defense Forces humanitarian mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Thursday in an interview.

The deployment of 550-member Ground Self-Defense Force troops in southern Iraq expires in mid-December. In a group interview with the media, Koizumi remained mum on whether Tokyo will extend or pull the troops out, but cited the three aforementioned factors in the equation.

“There will be a national referendum (in Iraq over a draft constitution) in October. We have to see (the situation after that), too,” Koizumi said.

Koizumi, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, is now in the middle of campaigning for the Sept. 11 House of Representative election, which he called after his postal privatization bills were rejected by the House of Councilors on Aug. 8.

He wants the key issue for the election to be whether voters support or oppose his postal privatization plan, spending most of his campaign rhetoric on the theme.

But he has remained mum on other matters, including the timing of the Iraq troop pullout, whether the unpopular consumption tax will be hiked, how to reform the ailing basic public pension system and if he will make another contentious visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.

Asked his position on those four issues, Koizumi only said voters will make their judgment on election day by considering his accomplishments since his April 2001 inauguration.

“I think voters have already understood my basic policies, given the past four years,” he said without elaborating.

In his four years in power, Koizumi supported the U.S.-led war against Iraq and sent ground troops there on a postwar reconstruction mission.

He has also hinted he may pay another visit the war-related Shinto shrine this year in line with his past pledge to go there once a year.

Koizumi has also repeatedly vowed not to raise the consumption tax during his LDP presidency, which runs until next September. The LDP has only pledged to carry out “comprehensive tax reforms” around fiscal 2007.

As for steps to stabilize the shaky basic pension system, the LDP, in its election pledge, has only repeated its earlier promise to raise the state’s financial burden for the basic pension system to half from the current one-third.

Asked what were his biggest achievements over the past four years, Koizui boasted his austere fiscal policy and stern financial stance for successfully halving the bad loans at four megabanks from March 2002.

“I think (LDP) presidents after me won’t be able to step out of this reform course anymore. I think that’s my achievement,” Koizumi said.