Quixotic or not, Mr. Junichiro Koizumi, the newly elected prime minister of Japan, has largely succeeded in sticking to his maverick goal of forming a Cabinet untainted by factional politics. Both in his selection of executive officers of the Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday and in his appointments of Cabinet members on Thursday, he bypassed the usual intervention by faction chiefs and managed to personally secure “the right person in the right post.” As a result, the new Cabinet bears welcome features whose presence was lacking in past LDP Cabinets.
It is true that most of the new Cabinet members belong to one or another intraparty faction. Specifically, three Cabinet ministers are affiliated with the Mori faction, of which Mr. Koizumi himself was a leading member until the LDP-presidential race began earlier this month. Other factions each have one member in the new Cabinet. What is significant, however, is that they were virtually handpicked by Mr. Koizumi on the basis of the principle “the best fit for the post.”
Traditionally, Cabinet posts have been distributed to factions according to their numerical strength and faction heads have played a decisive role in giving posts to faction members on a seniority-based system of rotation. But this practice has not been given any chance to play a part this time. If this leads to a steadily diminishing role for factions in the LDP, then Mr. Koizumi’s rejection of this old practice will mark a real departure from the past for the faction-oriented LDP.
Unfortunately, however, the factions continue to exist; they are only temporarily dormant. In particular, the largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto — who lost the president race to Mr. Koizumi this week — has merely assumed a wait-and-see attitude because the wind of popular support that strongly backs Mr. Koizumi as a reformist maverick is still blowing. At the moment, acting against this wind will only debilitate this faction, which has long played the role of kingmaker in the LDP.
Indeed, factions in the LDP die hard. Mr. Koizumi will likely face resistance from the Hashimoto-led faction and others at every juncture in coming months. It is an important reminder in this connection that former LDP Policy Chief Shizuka Kamei and Mr. Takami Eto, who jointly head a faction, publicly vented their anger at Mr. Koizumi when he made appointments over their heads. But even such important faction bosses are afraid that any action against the popular Mr. Koizumi will damage themselves and their party in the coming Upper House election in July.
Equally, however, if Mr. Koizumi succumbs to their resistance or pressure in implementing his promises of reform, his days as prime minister will be soon numbered and public support for the LDP will further decline. Mr. Koizumi thus has adversaries both inside and outside his party: die-hard political dinosaurs within the party and opposition parties in the field.
Mr. Koizumi, however, has retained or named politicians to his Cabinet who are well versed in policy affairs. The centerpiece of the new Cabinet is Mrs. Makiko Tanaka’s appointment to the important post of foreign minister. The outspoken daughter of the late former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka does not belong to any faction and is a reform-minded politician. Mrs. Tanaka, who campaigned for Mr. Koizumi in the party presidential race, is expected to serve as one of the main pillars of the Koizumi Cabinet.
Another focus of attention is the appointment of Mr. Heizo Takenaka, an economist who is a professor at Keio University, to the post of state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy. As an active member on an advisory council under former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, he experienced difficulty in carrying out reforms under the government of a faction-oriented LDP that stood on a two-tier power structure. Therefore, he is one of the fittest people to serve on the Cabinet led by Mr. Koizumi, who advocates reform and political accountability.
Mr. Koizumi inherits a coalition government with New Komeito and the New Conservative Party. Despite their agreement on major policies, there remain differences in policy priorities. For example, the LDP led by Mr. Koizumi and New Komeito differ from one another in terms of policy priority between structural reforms and economic growth. Mr. Koizumi must attain his goal while overcoming resistance against reforms within his own party and ironing out differences among the coalition allies. It will be an uphill battle for a maverick politician who has long enjoyed a comparatively free hand, but he must climb that steep hill.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.