Reformist Koike loyal to LDP, waits in wings


While last year’s Liberal Democratic Party presidential race ended in a landside victory for Prime Minister Taro Aso, there were signs that the old guard’s grip on power is slipping.

For one thing, among those in the running was the first-ever female candidate, ex-Defense Minister Yuriko Koike.

Although Koike didn’t grab the top spot, she said the experience made her realize anew the deep responsibility that comes with leading the nation.

And she hasn’t given up on becoming prime minister.

“I think all politicians have that thought,” Koike said in a Tuesday interview with The Japan Times. “I aspired to become the prime minister because it would give me the chance to realize the policies I wish to implement.”

Koike, who also served as environment minister, explained that while a Cabinet minister can promote policies within that person’s jurisdiction, the prime minister can do so across the whole spectrum.

Koike is particularly interested in seeing environmental policies promoted, in line with worldwide trends.

“It has both technological and economic significance,” she said, convinced Japan would be a leader in the field.

She backs promoting use of solar panels and other environmentally friendly products, including electric vehicles.

Finding a silver lining to her LDP presidential election loss, she points out that some of the policies she ran on in the race are included in the fiscal 2009 budget bill.

However, while supportive of the four-month-old Aso administration, which has been scrambling to shore up its low opinion poll ratings, Koike said she would like to see Aso clarify his policy goals.

Some have accused Aso of not following through on the policies of his predecessors.

Ex-administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe resigned from the party to protest the Aso Cabinet’s nonpursuit of civil service reform.

Watanabe supported Koike, who shares his desire for administrative reform, in the LDP presidential race.

Koike said other reformist LDP members are probably similarly frustrated at the lack of change, although she has no intention of working with Watanabe at this point.

“We share the same policies, but I think people have their own ways to deal with the political situation,” she said.

While it remains unclear how Watanabe’s move will affect the LDP and other parties, what is clear is that the ruling party faces the possibility of losing the next election.

In a recent poll by Jiji Press, 37.1 percent of the respondents said they would vote for the Democratic Party of Japan in the proportional representative block in the next election, while 21.7 percent backed the LDP.

Even though the race looks up for grabs, it’s still too early to panic, Koike said.

She criticized the political wrangling in the Diet going on between the LDP and DPJ, the largest opposition party, calling it unproductive to engage in power games and to put off issues that need to be addressed in the midst of the global financial crisis.

Such political turmoil “is not good for the people,” she said.