National

LDP setback could deal a blow to Koizumi's diplomacy efforts

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s diplomatic policies on Iraq and North Korea could take a knock due to the setback experienced by his dominant Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday’s House of Councilors election.

Koizumi is expected to maintain his basic stance of viewing the Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy, given that the LDP and its coalition ally, New Komeito, retained a combined overall majority in the Upper House.

But because he failed to steer the LDP to victory in the election, Koizumi might face a growing number of situations in which he must not only think about what he wants to do but also what the public or the opposition camp wants, some LDP lawmakers said.

The prime minister might no longer be able to continue dismissing calls by the Democratic Party of Japan for debates on changes in diplomatic policy, as the main opposition party made inroads against the LDP in the election.

DPJ President Katsuya Okada, who has been demanding the withdrawal of the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq because he regards their participation in a U.N-authorized multinational force there as illegitimate under the war-renouncing Constitution, said early Monday he is ready to increase his attacks on Koizumi in Diet debates on the issue.

Toshihiro Shimizu, a member of a Tokyo volunteer group that mainly provides medical aid to Iraq, said the election results reflected people’s anger that Koizumi had too easily followed the United States in drawing up policies on Iraq’s reconstruction.

Shimizu, who serves as secretary general of the Japan International Volunteer Center, criticized the government, saying any decision to dispatch the SDF to Iraq should have been preceded by proper research into what Iraqis really need, combined with sufficient deliberations on Japan’s diplomacy toward Iraq.

The LDP’s setback might also force Koizumi to reconsider his position in dealing with pending issues related to North Korea.

Moves involving North Korea, including his first visit to Pyongyang in September 2002 for summit talks with its leader, Kim Jong Il, had helped boost Koizumi’s public support rates.

The government arranged a family reunion in Jakarta between repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga and her family living in North Korea just two days before Sunday’s election, but the tactic apparently did not work this time. An exit poll jointly conducted Sunday by media companies showed the latest support rate for the Cabinet was only 35 percent after the reunion took place, while the disapproval rate was 41 percent.

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