They’re sleeping in the same bed, but dreaming different dreams.
The well-known Japanese saying is the best way to describe Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has been re-elected head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and many members of the party who voted for him during Saturday’s presidential poll.
Most LDP lawmakers still oppose Koizumi’s austere reform drive, but they voted for him to take advantage of the prime minister’s solid support among the public and protect their own Diet seats in the upcoming Diet elections.
“I have lots of things to say (about Koizumi’s policy pledges),” said Tatsuo Shimizu, an Upper House member of the LDP who belongs to the faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
“But we don’t need to drag him down since he has retained such high approval rates (in media polls),” said the former top bureaucrat at the Construction Ministry.
Koizumi, though well aware of the ulterior motives of many in his party, nonetheless depended on those lawmakers to be re-elected and keep afloat his reform slogans — the primary source of his popularity among voters.
Both the lawmakers who support Koizumi and those who hate him pretend to be blind to their vast policy differences, although they are aware that they will collide head-on sooner or later, unless one side compromises and bows to the other.
Koizumi has stated he is convinced he can “create an atmosphere in which they can change their opinions” during his new tenure, while Upper House heavyweight Mikio Aoki — who supported his re-election, despite his opposition to Koizumi’s reforms — insisted he believes the prime minister will change his economic policies by listening to his dissenters within the party.
And voters, who love Koizumi’s reformist zeal but are still demanding a quick economic recovery, appear to be dreaming a different — maybe impossible — dream.
Although most media polls have shown that between 50 percent and 60 percent of voters support Koizumi’s re-election as LDP chief, roughly the same percentage disapprove of the prime minister’s economic policies and would prefer more stimulus measures.
Extra stimulus measures usually means additional government spending and the issue of more government bonds, which flies in the face of Koizumi’s austere fiscal policies.
“Voters don’t look at the substructure (of what lies underneath Koizumi’s reformist policy pledges),” said a senior LDP executive and a close aide to Koizumi.
This apparent contradiction has perplexed many anti-Koizumi politicians within the LDP, prompting them to give tentative support to Koizumi’s re-election while preparing to rebel once supporting him proves to be no longer personally advantageous in their bids to retain their seats in national elections.
Koizumi has indicated that he will dissolve the House of Representatives as early as October and hold a general election the following month. Half of the seats in the House of Councilors are also up for grabs in a triennial election next summer.
Tsutomu Yamazaki, another Upper House LDP member of the Hashimoto faction, said he still cannot decide which policy voters really prefer — Koizumi’s reform policies or aggressive fiscal spending that LDP support groups have traditionally called for.
“We shouldn’t make him quit while it is not clear why his approval rates are so high,” said Yamazaki, adding he will keep a careful eye on the reactions of voters to see whether Koizumi and Aoki can really reach agreement on policies, as they claim.
Swing in balance of power
Koizumi’s landslide victory in the presidential poll has also revealed a change in the balance of power within the LDP — not only at the national level, but also at the local chapter level, party sources said.
At the national level, the election clearly showed that the influence of faction bosses — traditionally the individuals who called the shots in party races — has been severely eroded due to changes in the electoral system and tightened legal controls on political funds over the past decade.
Leaders of the Hashimoto faction and another faction led by LDP Executive Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi failed to unite, with many junior lawmakers worried about their own Diet seats quick to demonstrate their loyalty to the popular prime minister.
At the local level, the power of traditional players has also been weakened, party insiders say.
“Occupational associations,” or interest groups representing industries that have registered as local LDP members, have long served as the main vote-gathering machines and pressure groups for the LDP.
But in this election, most of those associations — which account for 60 percent of the 1.4 million local party members eligible to vote in the presidential poll — have failed to reach a collective decision on a single candidate to support, party sources said.
“We’ll leave the voting to each party member. It’s difficult to field a joint candidate,” said Eiichi Horie, vice president of a national association of pharmacists.
The association, which boasts 36,000 registered LDP members, has consistently and fiercely opposed Koizumi’s proposal to deregulate their sector and allow medicines to be sold at stores that do not have a qualified pharmacist.
But the association failed to line up behind a single candidate against Koizumi as they were split over the best alternative to the party president, Horie said.
In addition to the deep divisions among Koizumi’s opponents, a member of the campaign team for Shizuka Kamei pointed out that the decision-making ability of interest groups has been considerably weakened in recent years, reflecting a declining loyalty among local association members.
The number of registered party members belonging to various vested interest groups has been steadily declining for the past decade, and its influence over the party has accordingly waned.
In the previous Upper House election in 2001, candidates fielded by 10 major occupational associations supporting the LDP won a total of 2.29 million votes.
In a 1980 election, however, candidates supported by the same 10 associations won 10.04 million votes. Those associations represented local post offices, retired military personnel, construction companies, doctors, nurses and farmers.
“In the past, (the Hashimoto faction) has had a strong influence over local members. But no longer,” said a Diet member supporting former Transport Minister Takao Fujii, who ran against Koizumi but won only marginal support from his party colleagues.
In addition, he admitted, most LDP members who still retain influence over interest groups are Upper House members under the influence of Aoki, who split the Hashimoto faction vote by expressing his support for Koizumi.
“All of them have gone to the (Koizumi) side. The impact of that was major,” he said.
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