Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi compromised with his Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday and agreed to leave the timing of the privatization of the nation’s postal services ambiguous in the party’s campaign policy.
The move, which comes on the eve of the expected dissolution of the House of Representatives, is widely seen as a blow to Koizumi’s reformist image.
But Koizumi strongly denied making any concessions during his talks with LDP policy chief Fukushiro Nukaga on Thursday evening.
After being re-elected as LDP president last month, Koizumi pledged that his promise to privatize the three postal services of mail delivery, postal savings and “kampo” life insurance by April 2007 would be incorporated in the party’s election platform.
According to Nukaga, the two agreed that the LDP will decide on the timing by the fall of 2004, “after taking into account the government’s plan to privatize (postal services) in 2007 and conducting a nationwide debate” on the issue.
After emerging from his meeting with Koizumi, Nukaga refused to say whether the vague wording means the party will actually agree to privatization.
Later in the day, however, Koizumi stressed that privatization in 2007 “will be the party’s election pledge.”
But some LDP members who attended a meeting that day of the party’s committee tasked with drawing up the policy thought otherwise.
“Discussions will start based on the prime minister’s hope of privatization.
But on the other hand, it means we’re given room for discussion,” said former posts minister Seiko Noda, adding that privatization is not a matter that needs to be decided immediately.
A draft of the party’s full campaign platform will go before the LDP’s decision-making Executive Council on Friday.
Privatization of the postal services, which now hold a staggering 350 trillion yen worth of individuals’ assets, has been one of Koizumi’s most controversial policy proposals.
Many LDP members have staunchly opposed the plan, as employees at the state-run services have been some of their most powerful supporters and fundraisers.
Much of the 350 trillion yen in postal savings and insurance have been invested in seriously debt-ridden, inefficient semi-governmental corporations or used to purchase massive quantities of Japanese government bonds.
Koizumi has long advocated that postal services should be privatized to end the flow of such huge quantities of funds into the public sector. He has failed, however, to reveal any details of his proposal, other than repeating the mantra of “privatization.”
Koizumi has said that all details should be discussed at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, an advisory panel to the prime minister, by next fall.
Graybeards to run
Despite criticism that they are too old, former Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone and Kiichi Miyazawa expressed their intention Thursday to run in the forthcoming House of Representatives election.
At a meeting of a Liberal Democratic Party faction, Nakasone, 85, said, “I would like to continue (as a Lower House member) by being the first candidate from the northern Kanto proportional representation bloc.”
Miyazawa, 84, told reporters he “would like to request” to be allowed to run in the proportional representation bloc of the Chugoku region.
The election is expected to be held Nov. 9.
Attention has been focused on whether the two would enter the race because the LDP might prevent candidates over 72 years old from running on its proportional representation list.
While the party is considering adopting the age limit starting with the upcoming election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe have said they would respect the wishes of each individual.
Now that both Nakasone and Miyazawa have clarified their intention to run, LDP executives will face a difficult decision on whether to go ahead with implementing the age limit.
Nakasone was prime minister from November 1982 to November 1987, while Miyazawa was in the post from November 1991 to August 1993.
Candidates seeking Lower House seats in proportional representation blocs need the official support of their party.
Under this system, ballots are cast not for individuals but for parties. Each party ranks candidates on its list before voting takes place.
Winners are declared from the top of the list based on the number of votes garnered by the party.
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