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Home > Media Reiews > Other Review Last Updated: 14:56 03/09/2007
Special Review #3: May 7, 2001

Comparison between Koizumi and McCain

Although there have been a large number of articles on Junichiro Koizumi in the Japanese and foreign media since his election as Japan's prime minister in late April, virtually none of them has been able to provide a comparative viewpoint, that takes account of political developments in Japan as well as overseas.
The following is a notable exception, where an interesting comparison is made between Junichiro Koizumi of the LDP and Senator John McCain of the U.S. Republican Party:

Comparison between Koizumi and McCain
(from NBR's Japan Forum; 5/2/2001)
By James Schoff (US-Japan Foundation)

I have been telling friends who ask me that Koizumi is not unlike Senator John McCain in the US. The comparison needs a hefty dose of qualifiers, but it can be helpful when considering the political dynamics in which Koizumi currently operates. His support rating goes up as the audience broadens, but his policies and personality are not representative of the party to which he belongs. A large gap develops between his personal popular support ratings and the Party's popular support ratings. The political opposition finds its policy territory severely trespassed.

Just imagine if the US Republican Party had been down for a while in support polls, and the State Party officials began to feel that the only way the Party could take the White House would be to nominate McCain (against the wishes of central Party members who, unlike the regional members, would not choose to compromise policy approaches, political beliefs or vested interests for a boost in public support).

Koizumi only survives as long as he is perceived as delivering on the promise of reform. The status quo LDP and the opposition are temporarily paralyzed, but if the reform image stalls he is overwhelmed by them. His pet issue (Post Office privatization) is too controversial to move on first and foremost (in contrast McCain would probably be able to move on his signature issue), but he needs to press aggressively forward or stall. He started with the Cabinet line-up, but he needs something substantive to tackle early.

The economy is the likely first target. Can he frame the debate to trim fiscal stimulus (primarily the "evil" and corrupt public works spending, taking a page out of Ishihara's posturing playbook of putting oneself on the opposite side of an unpopular group), strengthen social safety nets, support bad debt write-off and let them cut off the weakest borrowers, facilitate land and other asset transactions, etc? A tough task made tougher by the heavy ankle-weight of his own Party leadership's reluctance. It seems too much to expect wholesale change. Perhaps the most valuable contribution Koizumi can make (or has made) is to show younger politicians that challenging the status quo can be politically rewarding (unlike Kato's folly) if you follow though. In this sense, a small policy victory here and there by Koizumi would be nice to help drive this point home. He doesn't need to "change Japan" by himself to succeed, just make a small dent.

Of course, another scenario is that some reform banners are hoisted, the LDP doesn't do so badly in the July election and mistakes Koizumi's support rating for its own, party leaders regain control and not much changes.


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