Koizumi vague on retirement, but pundits see LDP calling on him again

by Hiroko Nakata

As the term of Junichiro Koizumi, the nation’s third-longest-serving postwar prime minister, comes to a close, political pundits are speculating on his future.

Despite Koizumi’s repeated assertions that he wants to lead a quiet life after stepping down, some observers think he may be asked to run for the top post again, given his enduring popularity.

If his ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffers a crushing defeat in a future general election, the party may beg him to step in and save it, they said.

According to Jiji Press, Koizumi, who will step down on Sept. 26, is No. 2 on its list of Japan’s most popular leaders since the early 1960s.

“I have a feeling that Koizumi will come back in the not-too-distant future,” wrote well-known commentator Takashi Tachibana in the October issue of Bungei Shunju.

For his part, Koizumi has insisted he has no plans to exercise his influence from behind the scenes, and no wish to stay in the limelight. He has even refused to set up interviews after he steps down.

“I want to think quietly about what I can do as a Diet member who’s had experience being a prime minister,” Koizumi told reporters Wednesday.

This nonchalance has fueled speculation of a different sort: that he may use his newfound free time to indulge his hobbies.

“I’d rather expect that he will go to operas and Kabuki,” said political commentator Hisayuki Miyake.

Koizumi is known as a devotee of music and theater. He often went to the opera despite his busy schedule as prime minister. In April, the silver-haired divorcee invited gold medal figure skater Shizuka Arakawa to accompany him to Puccini’s opera “Turandot” at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall.

“Unlike other politicians, he has not done anything like meeting with lobbyists, even before he became prime minister,” Miyake said.

Koizumi mystified reporters when asked about his plans after leaving office.

“Well, even now, I listen to various types of music I like — operas, symphonies, and pop music,” he said.

When asked whether he plans to embark on a career outside politics, he said: “No. I am a politician. I guess there isn’t any room for me to play an active part in other fields.”