Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won an overwhelming victory in the country's 44th parliamentary elections on Sept. 11. The LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito will continue their political cohabitation to rule the nation.
The recent election's show-stopper was the debate over whether to carry out the privatization of Japan's postal service, which was Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's big election gamble. The election result shows that Koizumi was right to bet on appealing directly to voters to back his reform agenda.
Japan Post is not simply a postal company, but rather a financial services giant that includes a savings bank and insurance business with a combined US$3.2 trillion in assets. The figure is equal to 25 percent of Japan's total savings and two-thirds of its GDP. Thus, Japan Post is what may be regarded as the world's biggest financial institution, whose interest on postal savings is tax-exempt. Eradicating corruption in Japan's postal system and the "black-box" or non-transparent use of savings has been the key to Koizumi's structural reforms since he was head of the postal services agency. His party's victory will further cement his position as prime minister, and leave him free to enact reforms. As a result, postal reform -- which Koizumi believes will establish his place in history -- will be realized.
Three factors helped Koizumi break the political deadlock. First, the reason he was able to fight his way back from what looked like certain defeat was his demand that the issue of postal privatization be put before the people through dissolving the lower house and letting the public decide whether or not they support postal reform. Culturally and historically speaking, Japan is a strongly idealistic nation, so its people generally admire brave warriors who charge forward despite difficulties. Hero worship has long been a mark of the Japanese people, and Koizumi's "epic" stand on reform has impressed the public.
Second, his decision to dissolve the lower house was made at a good time, since it deflected attention from the controversy over whether he would visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15. He did not end up visiting the shrine on that day, at a separate government-sponsored memorial service he offered an apology for Japan's wartime aggression and vowed that the country would never wage war again. This move was admired by the public, and it has paid political dividends by giving Koizumi a five percentage point gain in popularity.
Third, his party's tactic of nominating what the media called "assassin" candidates, especially women, proved a powerful propaganda weapon. This policy has convinced many voters that he's serious about change. The LDP also established a "headhunting unit" to encourage members of the social elite, including celebrities, to run for election. Their participation greatly increased Japan's usually low voter turnout, and helped bolster Koizumi's triumph in parliamentary polls.
Koizumi is one of a small number of strong post-war prime ministers, and his victory indicates a longing for a leader to push through reforms. Japanese society now suffers from a lack of focus, which could arise from public dissatisfaction with Japan's economy and political corruption. It could also be caused in part by anxieties over the pressure from the economic boom in neighboring nations, which has underlined their own loss of national status and lack of direction. But another result of Koizumi's tough stance could be a more aggressive foreign policy, and this is something that should also concern us.
Li Ming-juinn is the chief-editor of the Japanese edition of Issues & Studies, which is published by the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
TRANSLATED BY LIN YA-TI
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