While Junichiro Koizumi’s appointment of Makiko Tanaka as foreign minister took the nation by surprise, some experts warn she could be a mixed blessing for the new prime minister despite her strong popular appeal.
The sharp-tongued Tanaka, daughter of late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, has stayed out of the party’s mainstream but has often been cited in media surveys as the public’s No. 1 choice as prime minister.
Tanaka, who first applied the “eccentric” tag to Koizumi when he unsuccessfully ran for LDP president in 1998, will surely be the main attraction of the prime minister’s 17-member team.
Although Tanaka has a good command of English and accompanied her father on his official overseas trips nearly three decades ago, her diplomatic skills remain untested.
“Koizumi avoided risks by keeping several key Cabinet ministers from (Yoshiro Mori’s) team and appointing private-sector experts,” said Rei Shiratori, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo. “But Tanaka’s appointment was an exception.
“I doubt if (she) has the sense of balance that is a must to take on the foreign minister’s job.”
Koizumi reportedly asked Sadako Ogata, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, to take the post, but she is believed to have refused on grounds she was unfamiliar with Koizumi’s policies.
Diplomatic tasks piling up for Tanaka include the relationship with China, which was strained recently by former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui’s visit, as well as a row over a history textbook authorized earlier this month despite criticism that it glosses over Japan’s wartime aggression.
While the choice of Tanaka drew mixed reactions, Koizumi’s appointment of Masajuro Shiokawa, 79, as finance minister to replace Kiichi Miyazawa, 81, was a disappointment to financial markets, which greeted the news by unloading yen.
Shiokawa himself admitted during his first encounter with the press that although he has “common sense” in general subjects, he has little expertise in financial affairs.
Observers believe Shiokawa’s appointment may be an attempt to avoid a power struggle within the party’s second-largest faction, to which Koizumi belonged until just two weeks ago.
Political analyst Minoru Morita said Koizumi obviously appointed Shiokawa to a Cabinet position to avoid infighting between Shiokawa and Mori; the two were once considered rivals for leadership of the faction.
Besides the finance minister, markets generally welcomed Koizumi’s other selections for financial posts — Hakuo Yanagisawa as financial affairs minister and Keio University professor Heizo Takenaka as state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, according to Akio Makabe, chief economist at the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Research Institute.
Koizumi also reportedly tried in vain to recruit Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. and leader of the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren), to a Cabinet position.
Koizumi’s campaign hinged on his declaration that he would break from party tradition and ignore factional power balances when appointing his Cabinet and top party executive posts.
He seems to have stuck to this goal, at least when dealing with the party’s largest faction, led by Ryutaro Hashimoto. That faction missed out on the three top party posts and received only two Cabinet posts — a dramatic break from the common practice over the past decade when the faction effectively dominated party affairs.
Neither did Koizumi follow the typical practice of asking faction heads for their recommendations for Cabinet or party posts; he simply made phone calls directly to his favorites.
At least one party elder, Takami Eto, coleader of a faction that supported former party policy chief Shizuka Kamei in the party race, was furious. Dissatisfaction is also said to be mounting within the Hashimoto faction, which officially said it would not meddle with Koizumi’s selection of Cabinet members and party executives.
But whether Koizumi maintained his pledge to avoid factional politics is not clear. He picked at least one Cabinet minister from all but one LDP factional group.
Morita predicted that the LDP elders, despite obvious complaints of Koizumi’s ways, will have no choice but to count on the new leader’s popularity and Tanaka’s appeal to garner voter support for the party in the crucial Upper House election in July.
“The LDP is taking advantage of the enormous popularity of Koizumi and Tanaka,” he said. “And the party elders would remain quiet until the election.”
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