Koizumi ties Nakasone for third-longest term as leader

by Hiroko Nakata

Junichiro Koizumi reached a new milestone in his political career Wednesday when he tied Yasuhiro Nakasone as the third-longest-serving prime minister since World War II.

His 1,806 days in office follows only the 2,798 days posted by Eisaku Sato, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1970s, and the 2,616 days of Shigeru Yoshida, who served two terms — 1946-1947 and 1948-1954.

Koizumi won’t match their stints if he steps down in September, as he has often pledged.

The crusading reformer’s run in the top spot is unusual. Indeed, 10 men held the office between Nakasone’s exit in 1987 and Koizumi’s start in April 2001, with some forced out by scandal, some hit by economic doldrums and two who fell into a coma.

Asked why the Koizumi administration has lasted so long, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe cited its strong public support.

“It is a result of his showing clear policy goals and explaining them to the public,” the top government spokesman said.

Koizumi told reporters that when he became prime minister, he had not expected to end up tying Nakasone for the No. 3 spot.

“Maybe I am lucky I have come this far,” he said. “This is because people have supported me and joined hands with me.”

During his time in office, the media-savvy Koizumi has consistently enjoyed a support rate above the 50 percent mark.

He has also been helped by weak oppositions parties, not to mention the current economic recovery after a long period of stagnation, probably the roughest stretch in the postwar period.

With his slogan “No reform, no growth,” Koizumi is now looking to place the finishing touches on his agenda by getting a major reform bill through the Diet.

Analysts say the end of the current Diet session, scheduled for June 18, will be the starting gun for the race to replace him when he steps down in September.

Possible candidates include Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.