National / Politics

'Japan's Macron' Shinjiro Koizumi in the spotlight ahead of Cabinet shake-up

by Linda Sieg

Reuters

He’s young, good-looking and the media call him “Japan’s Macron,” so it is little surprise that lawmakers say Shinjiro Koizumi may be offered a post when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his Cabinet next month in a bid to revive his public support, which is now sagging.

Abe wants to repair his popularity, battered by a scandal over suspected favoritism for a friend’s business and by many voters’ perceptions that he takes them for granted after more than four years in office.

Shinjiro Koizumi, the 36-year-old bachelor son of charismatic former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, has been suggested as a future leader since being elected in a 2009 Lower House election that temporarily ousted his Liberal Democratic Party.

But Shinjiro, as he is popularly known, to distinguish him from his father, has acknowledged the risks of taking on a high-profile post too soon.

“People often say, ‘You’re young, so you shouldn’t fear failure,’ ” he told the Nikkei business daily in a rare interview in April. “But the ones who say that are waiting for you to fail. And if you fail, they will thoroughly beat you down.”

Other young politicians have come to grief in prominent posts, although Abe first became prime minister in 2006, after serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary in his mid-40s and then as chief Cabinet secretary.

Abe resigned abruptly the following year, after a troubled tenure, but surged back to power in 2012.

Some in the ruling party warn that Shinjiro’s accepting a key portfolio would have its downside, while perhaps not yielding Abe a big boost in popularity.

“He’s still young to be tasked with such heavy expectations,” said LDP lawmaker Hajime Funada. “It would be a difficult mission.”

The closest Shinjiro has come to a Cabinet post was his 2014 appointment as parliamentary vice minister for reconstruction of the tsunami-hit Tohoku region.

Shinjiro shares some of Abe’s conservative views — he has paid his respects at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead — but is hardly a protege of the prime minister, having voted for a rival in a 2012 party leadership election.

A fourth-generation lawmaker, Shinjiro has shaped his image as a reformer, while taking care not to offend party elders.

“Shinjiro has a passion and instinctive feel for politics,” said a source who declined to be identified for privacy reasons.

He has grabbed headlines for criticizing the farm lobby that has backed the LDP but blocked efforts to reform the sector.

As head of a panel on redesigning social security to cope with the aging population, Shinjiro has suggested a “child insurance” plan to fund free preschool education with premiums, an idea more palatable to fiscal hawks worried about a huge public debt than the alternative of more government bonds.

He has been ambiguous on the politically touchy topic of nuclear power, however, seemingly caught between a government push to restart reactors and his father’s campaign, following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, to abandon atomic power.

Shinjiro graduated from a private university in Japan and took a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He then worked at Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies before winning the Lower House seat left vacant by his father’s retirement.