Just as he indicated he would do before Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi filled major party-executive posts and Cabinet posts with politicians loyal to his postal-reform policy. Prior to the naming of the new Cabinet lineup, Mr. Koizumi appointed Mr. Tsutomu Takebe, a former farm minister and avowed advocate of postal-system privatization, to succeed Mr. Shinzo Abe as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party.
In the administration of Mr. Koizumi, Mr. Takebe’s assumption of the party’s No. 2 post bears far greater importance than the appointment to a Cabinet portfolio directly related to postal reforms. Mr. Takebe is known as a staunch advocate of Mr. Koizumi’s reform initiatives. Belonging to a comparatively small intraparty faction headed by Mr. Taku Yamasaki, a former LDP secretary general who lost in last year’s general election, Mr. Takebe is relatively unknown to outsiders of the political world and has yet to test his true political abilities. As a minority Liberal Democrat who favors postal-services privatization, however, he played a central role in working out the LDP’s “manifesto” for last year’s Lower House election.
Commitment to Mr. Koizumi’s postal-services reforms is also believed to have determined Mr. Kaoru Yosano’s appointment as chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council. It is exceptional that a politician unaffiliated with any intraparty group in the LDP will be serving in one of the party’s three executive posts. These two appointments apparently represent Mr. Koizumi’s determination to carry out his long-cherished goal of privatizing postal services.
Mr. Koizumi probably intends to rally forces in his party toward the goal of postal reforms, driving a chariot pulled by these dedicated party executives. Without any strong intraparty power base, however, it is uncertain if these two party executives will be able to breach the strong barrier of resistance to postal-services reform within the LDP.
What attracts interest in this connection is the naming of Mr. Fumio Kyuma to the remaining party-executive post: chairman of the party’s decision-making Executive Council. Mr. Kyuma is close to Mr. Mikio Aoki, who leads the Liberal Democrats in the Upper House and once was senior leader of a large faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Informed sources believe that Mr. Koizumi expects Mr. Kyuma to ask Mr. Aoki to exert his influence on many Liberal Democrats to expedite the process of legislative preparations for postal privatization.
In reshuffling the Cabinet, Mr. Koizumi retained Mr. Heizo Takenaka, the economics minister who has been serving as the driving force behind Mr. Koizumi’s structural reforms, bestowing on him the additional burden of a newly created post to oversee postal privatization. Together with Mr. Taro Aso, who also has been retained as the head of the relevant ministry, Mr. Takenaka will supervise legislative preparations for the privatization.
Mr. Nobutaka Machimura has succeeded Ms. Yoriko Kawaguchi as foreign minister. Mr. Machimura, who is said to have a stronger political clout, is expected to push the nation’s diplomacy toward breakthroughs in the abduction issue pending with North Korea and in the Northern Territories problem, which has obstructed efforts to normalize relations with Russia.
Postal privatization appears to have overwhelmed other issues involved in the appointment of party executives and Cabinet ministers. This is only natural because from the start of the Koizumi government, postal privatization has been the most important of Mr. Koizumi’s “structural reform” initiatives that have been taking shape following the approval of the scenario earlier this month by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. Japan Post will be divided into four corporate units under a holding company, beginning in April 2007. One unit will manage over-the-counter services at post offices, while the other three will handle mail delivery, “Yucho” savings and “Kampo” life insurance. Yucho and Kampo operations will become completely independent from the holding company by the end of March 2017.
By avoiding factional considerations as much as possible, however, Mr. Koizumi may have risked taking a collision course with the forces opposing the privatization rather than appeasing them. To counter resistance from those forces, Mr. Koizumi will have to win public support, and for that purpose he needs to explain in detail why the privatization is necessary and how such a reform will benefit individual Japanese. Otherwise, the new party and Cabinet structures launched Monday may mark the beginning of a frustrating end to the Koizumi administration.
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