Tanaka Declares War on Koizumi: Paradise Lost
J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)
This comment originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Fourm" (http://lists.nbr.org/japanforum) on March 20, 2002: posted here with the authorís permission.
In an extraordinary series of interviews, the former foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, has depicted Prime Minister Koizumi as having abandoned political reform to stay in office. In the Japanese political version of Paradise Lost, she says the archangel of reform has joined the forces he pledged to oppose. In other words, Koizumi has embraced Milton: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
The future intentions of the popular former foreign minister have been unclear since her surprise sacking two months ago. Now in two interviews with the British media, she has openly declared war on the Prime Minister and the LDP.
In her interview with the British Guardian newspaper she accuses Koizumi of being in league with the much disliked former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. This is a very damaging charge for Koizumi who is meant to be a reformer. In the same interview, Tanaka also discusses the sexual harassment she experienced in the male dominated LDP.
In her other interview with BBC news, she continues the passionate onslaught on Koizumi, Mori and other political powerbrokers. The basic thrust of her argument is that the LDP cannot deliver reform, the party has reached a dead-end. It is time to really change the political landscape. This interview was also broadcast on all the major Japanese networks and is certain to be the main topic of discussion in the media and on popular morning chat shows.
These two interviews will turn up the heat on the Koizumi administration, which has seen its popularity collapse since Tanaka was sacked. This new offensive by Tanaka combined with the ongoing scandals involving former LDP heavyweights Kato and Suzuki will erode support for the Prime Minister even further. Postwar Japanese politics show that it is almost impossible for a PM to recover lost popularity, but for Koizumi there has not even been an opportunity to stabilize the situation since the slide begun. His administration has been under constant siege since he fired Tanaka. Adding to the woes of the PM, a new Jiji Press public opinion poll shows that Tanaka is now the most popular choice for Prime Minister, having overtaken Koizumi for the first time.
By depicting herself as a true reformer, Tanaka is making a serious bid to regain political power, possibly even the office of Prime Minister. The problem for Koizumi is that this war is being fought in the media and has already spun out of control. With disarray and infighting in his own party, the future for the PM looks uncertain. While not rivaling Milton, the next few weeks of this political saga are certain to be very interesting ones.