Prime Minister Taro Aso has flip-flopped again, this time over the privatization of the nation’s postal services. As prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi had exploited this as the main issue in the September 2005 Lower House election, enabling the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito to grab more than two-thirds of the chamber’s seats. Mr. Aso should be aware that flip-flopping now will further lower his credibility as the nation’s leader.

On Feb. 5, he told the Lower House Budget Committee that he was against the privatization, although he joined other Koizumi Cabinet ministers in endorsing bills related to the privatization in 2005 and again later that year in accepting Mr. Koizumi’s decision to dissolve the Lower House after the Upper House had voted down the privatization bills. At the time, Mr. Aso was internal affairs and communications minister, who oversaw postal services.

One might wonder why, if Mr. Aso is a man of principle, he didn’t say “No!” at that time. He should remember that most of the LDP politicians who elected him as prime minister had been elected to the Lower House in 2005 on a platform calling for the privatization. This shows that the opinions of his supporters differ significantly from his over a key issue.

Following criticism, Mr. Aso on Feb. 9 revised his earlier statement, explaining he was against privatization when he became internal affairs and communications minister in 2003 but eventually supported it after studying it for two years. He said he came to believe that privatized postal service entities would be profitable depending on how privatization was carried out.

On Feb. 5, Mr. Aso also said it is time to review whether the privatized, four-unit setup of Japan Post Bank Co., Japan Post Insurance Co., Japan Post Service Co. (mail delivery firm) and Japan Post Network Co. (over-the-counter services firm) is appropriate. At the very least, he should clearly state how the current setup should be changed and seek voters’ judgment on it in the coming Lower House election.

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