Japan’s Cabinet rushed yesterday to defend beleaguered Prime Minister Taro Aso after rare, biting criticism by popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi underscored growing unrest in the ruling party.
With high-risk elections expected within months, Koizumi on Thursday ripped into the incumbent prime minster and attacked his controversial plan to hand out cash to the public to combat the recession in the world’s second largest economy.
Koizumi, a reformist who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, was one of Japan’s most popular leaders in recent times. Since he stepped down, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has steadily slumped in the polls.
Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa defended Aso, taking Koizumi to task for criticizing the cash rebates that average ¥12,000 (US$130) per person, but have been derided as an election gimmick even by some LDP lawmakers.
“It’s hard for me to understand the opposition by someone who was a prime minister. He also supported the plan when it was formally decided inside the party, didn’t he?” Nakagawa said.
LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda doubted that rebels within the party would derail the cash rebate plan.
“There is no change in our plan and I don’t expect” a rebellion, Hosoda said.
Aso, Nakagawa and Hosoda were all top ministers under Koizumi.
Koizumi led the LDP to a landslide victory in the last general elections in 2005 on a promise to rid the long-dominant party of its old guard and to privatize the massive post office monopoly.
But Aso, whose approval rating has fallen below 20 percent, recently said he had opposed the break-up of the post office, which many Japanese use as a bank and long supplied bonds to fund politically popular construction work.
“I was dumbfounded rather than angered by the prime minister’s remarks, so much so that I felt like laughing,” Koizumi told LDP lawmakers on Thursday.
Koizumi has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since stepping down, focusing on his hobbies, such as watching opera. He does not plan to run for re-election to parliament.