• Kyodo

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A recently released U.S. congressional report predicted dim prospects for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s economic reform initiative due to the plunge in his public approval ratings and the increasing influence of the Liberal Democratic Party’s old guard.

“Because Koizumi’s popularity was one of the few weapons he could wield in his efforts to seize the machinery of government away from the LDP’s kingpins, the prospects for his economic reform program have become even more clouded,” the report says.

For months after rising to power in April 2001, Koizumi’s public approval ratings remained well over the 70 percent level. They began plummeting in early February, however, after he dismissed the controversial but highly popular Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka over a dispute with ministry bureaucrats.

The report, released in late June by the the Congressional Research Service, a think tank exclusively working for members and committees of the U.S. Congress, says the United States may have to continue to support Koizumi because there are no alternative politicians in Japan who can promote reforms.

“There appear to be no politicians in the LDP or in Japan’s opposition parties that have the political strength to challenge Koizumi in the near future,” it says.

The report voices disappointment with the Japanese political system’s “striking inertia” in responding to a decade of economic slump.

As one of the factors for the policy inaction, the report cites the extreme compartmentalization of policymaking.

“Unlike in most industrialized societies, each policy arena in Japan is so self-contained that cross-sectoral, horizontal coalitions among interest groups rarely form. One reason for this is that bureaucrats are paramount in most of Japan’s policy compartments,” the report says.

“Furthermore, the LDP’s policymaking organ, the Policy Affairs Research Council, itself is segmented into specialist caucuses (often called tribes or ‘zoku’), so that competing interests — such as protectionist farmers and export industries — rarely face off inside the LDP.”

The report adds that the factional division of the LDP and the weakness of the opposition parties are leading to the inactivity of the Japanese political system.

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