Tue, Sep 20, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Thirst for reform led to Koizumi, Ma victories

By Apolio Chen 陳學聖

On Sept. 11, Japan's parliamentary elections came to a close. Although Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put his political career on the line by forcing a snap election, his party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), secured a landslide victory. This has not only given the LDP a tremendous boost but also strengthened Koizumi's drive for reform. In the years to come, Koizumi will still be the one calling the shots in Japan's political arena.

Similarly, Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was calling for reform and whose chances did not initially look good, became the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman in July with a majority of more than 50 percent. Looking deeper, we can tell there are a number of similarities between Ma and Koizumi.

First, both Ma and Koizumi have been longstanding proponents of reform in well-established parties that have been rejected by the people because of corruption and internal dissension. Following a series of election setbacks, both parties have started improving their public image by reforming themselves.

Second, the major challenge to both Ma and Koizumi came from within their own party. The major challenge facing Koizumi during the election came from a new party made up of LDP heavyweights who defected; Ma has to deal with heavyweights in the KMT to command the legislative majority and the power of local factions.

Third, conservative forces have reacted fiercely to the reforms that Ma and Koizumi are attempting to achieve. Koizumi's plan to carry out the privatization of Japan's postal service has impacted a broad range of vested interests. As for Ma, his drive for reform has riled grassroots political factions as well as the central government.

From both Ma's and Koizumi's successful electoral experiences, we can conclude the following.

First, in both Taiwan and Japan, the influence of factional politics and the party's ability to mobilize people is dwindling. The younger generation, as well as those who are usually more indifferent to politics and "swing voters" who are more easily attracted by candidates with good images, have gradually been assuming a more decisive role in elections.

Second, as younger voters start having a bigger say in elections, it will be difficult for candidates favoring factional politics to win the approval of the people. Therefore, such candidates will also be at a disadvantage in national elections.

Third, both Ma and Koizumi have established an appealing image of being uncompromising in the face of opposition, and this has proved successful in achieving their goals.

In view of such comparisons, we can understand that it is the people's thirst for reform that has contributed so substantially to both Ma's and Koizumi's appeal. Koizumi appealed to the public, stressing that "reform cannot be discontinued" and asking people to continue to support him. However, such a remark also implies that opposing Koizumi simply amounts to opposing reform.

On the eve of the KMT chairmanship elections, Ma invoked people's compassion for him by telling people that if he, who is determined to introduce reform to the party, lost the election, it would be the biggest regret of his life.

Having been plagued by corruption and factional politics for a long time, both the Taiwanese and Japanese are longing for a reformer who can put a stop to corruption. In short, Ma's and Koizumi's popularity demonstrate that people in both countries crave reform.

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