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Distance from Abe (6): Abe, Koizumi size each other up

  • July 20, 2017
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

On the evening of June 25, a remark made by Shinjiro Koizumi, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s agriculture and forestry division, grabbed public attention.


“There are numerous ways to repay a debt,” he said.


The “debt” he was referring to is the one that he owes in a mayoral election held in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on the same day. Yokosuka is home to the Koizumis. But candidates that the Koizumi family – Shinjiro and his father Junichiro – backed in the previous two races failed to win a seat. This time, a rookie backed by him along with LDP and Komeito was elected to office.


The victory was due to support from the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] and the LDP, which treated this local election as a national race. This helped Koizumi save face, leading to speculation within the Nagatacho political arena that he is mulling how to repay the debt.     


Nagatacho is paying close attention to whether Koizumi will be offered a post during the cabinet reshuffle in early August. The LDP’s crushing defeat in the recent Tokyo assembly election shook the foundation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s uncontested grip on power. The government hopes to use popular Koizumi as a way to regain ground.  


The consensus of the public is that Koizumi is regarded as a future leader despite the fact he was elected to office only three times. He has steadily and with modesty built up his career in Nagatacho, a hotbed of political jealousy.   


In 2015, he was tapped as chairman of the party’s agriculture and forestry division. Though he took the initiative in overhauling the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh), he did not forget to show deference to his senior legislators who act in the interests of the agriculture and forestry industries. At the end of every division meeting, he made a point of thanking them. He even remained after meetings ended to listen to opinions from Zen-Noh executives.


At the end of March, Koizumi, together with junior members in the LDP, proposed creating a “children’s insurance” program to fund child-rearing support. The idea raised the hackles of mainly healthcare lobbyist politicians. He phoned them to ask for meetings at which he could explain the initiative. He waited at the Diet building for the politicians with whom he could not secure appointments and explained the mechanism of this program in detail.


But the rumor that he will be hand-picked by Abe for a key post worries him. “There are people who are waiting for me to fail,” he says. Joining the cabinet would become a good opportunity for him to broaden his career spectrum. But once he makes a mistake, he will surely come under fire. Meanwhile, if he assumes a key post, such as a deputy chief cabinet secretary, he will have little choice but to protect the government and the public may no longer regard him as a clean politician who is not afraid of criticizing the government. 


Koizumi keeps a delicate distance from Abe. “My temporal axis is different from his,” he once told people around him. In fact, he seldom mentioned Abenomics in his campaign speeches or in intra-party discussions. He shows a certain level of understanding for Abe’s economic stimulus, such as monetary easing and fiscal expansion, but he stresses the need to carry out structural reform, as he predicts that “problems facing Japan will suddenly become more pronounced after 2020.”  During the party presidential race in 2012, he voted for former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba because he agreed with Ishiba’s vision to “make Japan more sustainable.”


Meanwhile, Abe harbors complex feelings toward Koizumi. When Abe dined with party executives, he ticked off the names of his possible successors. When one participant told him, “We also have Shinjiro Koizumi in mind,” Abe dryly responded, “You don’t say.”


Abe does not conceal his displeasure with Koizumi, who makes use of his status as being outside the cabinet and shoots from the hip. “He is growing more reliable as he speaks up with confidence,” Abe recently said with sarcasm to his inner circle. Koizumi may become a white knight who rescues the government, but Abe fears that awarding him with a key post may be a step toward  grooming him as the successor he doesn’t want. “Shinjiro is a double-edged sword for the prime minister,” said a person close to Abe.


“French President Macron is 39 years old, and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau is 45,” Koizumi said. “We are about the same age, so I’m interested in their leadership.” Koizumi’s battle for leadership could happen in the not-so-distant future. How he will build up his career will affect this race.


How is Abe planning to use Koizumi? The incumbent leader and the potential future leader are carefully sizing each other up. (Slightly abridged)



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