The woman who was Japan's first female foreign minister, appointed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, lashed out at her former boss yesterday, calling him a mere "street performer" unable to keep promises to change his hidebound ruling party.
Launching a campaign to retake her old parliament seat after resigning amid a scandal 14 months ago, Makiko Tanaka has become one of the loudest critics of Koizumi and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- which she'll be challenging as an independent in elections early next month.
Tanaka is popular with voters for her outspoken manner. Her attempt at a political comeback is being closely watched as a measure of public discontent.
And Koizumi, who named her to his first Cabinet after taking office in 2001, has been her main target.
"Koizumi is like a magician or a street performer -- and a very skilled one," she said in an interview in her northern Japan home district.
"He is very talented at manipulating the media," she said.
Though Koizumi is Japan's most popular prime minister in recent history, his party is expected to face a tough fight to win a majority of the 480 seats up for grabs in the Nov. 9 lower house elections.
Tanaka's return to the public eye -- and her angry assaults on her former colleagues -- is making the fight harder for Koizumi's party.
Tanaka resigned in the middle of last year after a humiliating battle with Foreign Ministry subordinates who opposed her reform efforts, and amid allegations that she misappropriated government funds.
Absolved of any legal wrongdoing last month, she said she'd run again.
As a lawmaker, Tanaka delighted the country with her witty verbal attacks on the LDP's old guard.
Opinion polls ranked Tanaka -- the daughter of the prime minister from the 1970s -- among the Japanese people's top three to five choices for prime minister.
"The people don't have a choice, because there isn't much difference between the LDP and the Democrats [the main opposition party]," she said. "So I think there should be a third option."
Koizumi has tried to convince the public that Japan's improving economy reflects the fruits of his reforms -- but critics say the economy is riding on an export-driven revival, and that the government's reforms have been insubstantial.
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