The government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to face greater difficulties than perhaps ever before. I previously criticized his Cabinet as beset with troubles, both at home and abroad, as a result of scandals involving lawmaker Muneo Suzuki, former Liberal Democratic Party secretary general Koichi Kato and former Upper House president Yutaka Inoue, as well as the abortive attempt by North Korean asylum seekers to take refuge on the grounds of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China, on May 8.
A month later, both the ruling LDP and the government have lost the ability to act cohesively and prevent deliberations in the National Diet from straying off course.
Although I would not say the downfall of the Koizumi government is imminent, it appears to be close to disaster, as its public-approval rating, which remained at about 80 percent for nine months from its inception in April last year through January, has fallen to around 40 percent. An even greater percentage now expresses disapproval.
Prospects for the passage of several important legislative bills during the current ordinary session of the Diet, which ends June 19, are grim. The bills include a budget-related bill to revise the health insurance system, a bill for restructuring the postal system, and two controversial bills on emergency national defense and protection of private information.
It is utterly unthinkable that deliberations on all four bills will be completed within the next two weeks, even if drastic actions are taken to expedite legislative procedures. The best that could be hoped for would be an extension of the Diet session by 40 to 50 days so that final approval could be given to the health insurance and postal bills.
The Japanese political landscape is in for a stormy period from now until September as it faces a number of prickly issues: whether to extend the Diet session and for how long, whether any or all of the important legislative bills will pass, whether Koizumi will reshuffle his Cabinet, and whether he will decide to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election.
My previous description of the political scene as “beset with troubles at home and abroad” has changed to “straying off course” as discord has begun to appear within the Cabinet itself. I do not want to criticize the prime minister for maintaining an aggressive and optimistic attitude, but I am alarmed by his repeated criticism of journalism. It is incumbent on the mass media to point out political errors and issue warnings, and to question the words and deeds of the person at the nation’s helm. If the top man starts complaining about reporting, it can only be said that the regime is terminally ill.
A more serious problem lies in the discord and lack of concentration among leaders of the LDP, where governmental power is concentrated. For example, the words of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, long regarded as the most stable among Koizumi’s top aides, seemed to indicate that he was in favor of reviewing Japan’s policy against producing, using or possessing nuclear weapons.
Another example is the accountability of Defense Agency Director Gen Nakatani regarding the handling of personal data compiled on citizens who sought information from the agency under a new disclosure law. At first, Nakatani did not question explanations given by bureaucrats that individual officials had made mistakes. Later, however, he was forced to admit that the entire agency might have been involved in systematically manipulating personal data, thus inviting a call for his resignation.
Fukuda is trying to escape blame by insisting that what he was trying to say was not accurately reported. But the fact that similar things have been said by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe makes it difficult to dispel suspicion that Japan’s top political leaders are contemplating a review of the nation’s policy against nuclear weapons.
Criticism from the public and opposition parties has mounted against the words and deeds of Fukuda and Nakatani, both of whom hold key posts in the Cabinet. Moreover, some members within the ruling coalition camp, notably the New Komeito and mainstream people from the ruling party such as LDP acting secretary general Nobutaka Machimura, are becoming critical of Koizumi’s lack of leadership.
It appears that the Koizumi regime has entered into a critical phase as the end of the Diet session draws near, a situation that overshadows the passage of important legislative bills.
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