It is the heretical style of new Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that has sent his Cabinet’s approval ratings soaring, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Yasuo Fukuda

The unprecedented way in which the maverick leader formed his Cabinet — by ignoring the Liberal Democratic Party’s traditional factional pecking order — has struck a chord with the public and bolstered his image in the first battery of opinion polls, Fukuda said during an interview.

The Cabinet’s ratings had plunged to under 10 percent earlier this year under the leadership of Yoshiro Mori, one of the nation’s most unpopular prime ministers ever. But Koizumi is a different breed, Fukuda said.

“It’s Koizumi’s character . . . sitting in silent thought,” he said, attempting to describe his boss’ demeanor as he chose his Cabinet lineup April 26. “He drafted it by himself and decided it by himself,” said Fukuda, who was also chief Cabinet secretary for the last six months of Mori’s administration.

Koizumi “did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, who did the rounds of (consultations with) factional leaders before forming their Cabinets. And this, I think, left the public with a sense of freshness,” he said.

Koizumi’s decision to put five women and three nonpoliticians on the 17-strong Cabinet was also a popular move, Fukuda said.

On policy issues, the government’s top spokesman said he supports Koizumi’s proposal to introduce a popular vote for prime minister and replace parliamentary-style voting.

“I feel that the time is ripe to leave the choice for prime minister to every single citizen,” Fukuda said. The proposed system would mean revising the Constitution, which has not been altered since it took effect in 1947.

To see if the Cabinet can go through with the idea, Fukuda and Koizumi will be consulting Taro Nakayama, chairman of the Research Commission on the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

Nakayama’s commission involves all the major political parties and has been “studying” the need to review the supreme law since January 2000.

Fukuda, however, did not discuss revising Article 9, which forbids the use of force to resolve international disputes. Koizumi argues that the article is unrealistic because it prohibits the nation from maintaining military forces.

Turning to diplomacy, Fukuda hinted that the destination of Koizumi’s first overseas trip as prime minister will be the United States.

He also denied speculation that Koizumi may take advantage of his popularity to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold an early election in July, the same time the election for the House of Councilors is scheduled to be held.

“I don’t think there’s a need to dissolve (the Lower House),” Fukuda said.

The Upper House leaders of the ruling LDP are insisting that a Lower House election be held the same day so that Upper House candidates can gain all-out party support during their election campaigns.

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