When reforms related to his attempts to privatize Japan Post met with insuperable opposition, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi decided to dissolve parliament and call for new elections. The result was a victory for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which now holds a majority.
Last month, when Koizumi dissolved parliament, many media commentators did not fancy his chances, and some even believed that his political career was at an end.
When Koizumi took office in May 2001, he did so on a platform of breaking up Japan's factional politics, and to defeat one of the LDP's power brokers, Ryutaro Hashimoto. He continued to oppose the closed-door decision-making of factional politics.
Although Koizumi is an opponent of back-room dealing, this does not mean he does not appreciate the importance of negotiation. What differentiates Koizumi from the other faction leaders is that he appreciates the importance of negotiating with the general public. He invariably brings major policy decisions before the people, analyzing the pros and cons and generally communicating with the people in such a way as to win their support. This is exactly what he did last month. The lawmakers were too scared to take on the reform of Japan Post so Koizumi took it directly to the people.
In this country, many of the actions of both the government and the opposition have been disappointing. The arms-procurement bill and the flood-control budget are issues of national importance, yet they are blindly opposed by the pan-blue camp.
The government scolds the pan-blue camp but it doesn't really try to communicate with the public or give the people a full understanding of how important these issues are in order to win support for its position. Naturally, the legislature is not there just to reflect public opinion, but neither is it simply a mouthpiece for the political parties.
The intention here is not simply to praise Koizumi for his political acuity, but to hold him up as an example for the interaction between Taiwan's government, opposition parties and the legislature. To put it another way, in the face of major policy controversies, the government should put the pros and cons of its position before the people. The opposition should do the same. It would then be up to the public to make the final decision.
Another aspect of Koizumi's actions worth emulating is his brave perseverance on the idea of reform and his refusal to bow down in the face opposition. This is something that members of the government and opposition alike can learn from. In recent years, our parties and politicians have sacrificed their reformist ideals for for their own personal goals or to win allies. The result is that the public has lost all faith in calls for reform.
In February 2001, then Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and the party pledged to pursue reform. But at the same time they decided to drop the Chung Hsing bills financial scandal (involving People First Party [PFP] Chairman James Soong [宋楚瑜]), in which there were clear indications of fraud. When the people saw such blatant hypocrisy, how could they believe in Lien's reform plans?
In February of this year, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) called for reform. But after Chen issued a joint statement with Soong, who opposes reform, people began to doubt the president's commitment. And despite the joint statement, Soong continued in his opposition to the arms-procurement bill.