Two longtime political rivals will cooperate for the first time in decades to promote a single issue–moving Japan away from its dependence on nuclear energy.
Junichiro Koizumi and Ichiro Ozawa are both 76 and former members of the Liberal Democratic Party.
While Koizumi served as prime minister and has since retired from politics, Ozawa bolted the LDP and has been in the opposition except for a brief period, such as when the then Democratic Party of Japan was in control of government.
Ozawa remains a fixture in the Lower House, now serving his 17th term, and established a “political school” in 2001 as a way to nurture potential political leaders.
Koizumi is scheduled to speak at Ozawa’s school on July 15 on the theme of what course Japan should take.
He is expected to reiterate his calls for phasing out nuclear energy and stressing the importance of switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar power.
Ozawa himself will address his school the following day.
According to sources, the last time Koizumi and Ozawa cooperated was about 30 years ago.
In 1989, Ozawa was appointed to the powerful post of LDP secretary-general. He was a member of the LDP faction led at various times by such former prime ministers as Kakuei Tanaka and Noboru Takeshita.
For many years, the faction was the largest in the LDP and wielded wide influence.
Also in 1989, Koizumi was appointed to a party post under Ozawa as chairman of the national organization committee.
At that time, the two traveled together around the nation to meet with pro-LDP organizations and seek their continued support. At night, they were often found enjoying drinks and belting out their favorite songs at karaoke parlors.
But that brief honeymoon ended in 1991, when Koizumi formed an alliance with two LDP lawmakers, Taku Yamasaki and Koichi Kato. The trio’s main objective was to oppose what they considered the political style of the Tanaka and later Takeshita faction to dole out benefits in exchange for votes.
When asked by The Asahi Shimbun about why he was now cooperating with a one-time political foe, Koizumi said: “Keiseikai (as the Takeshita faction was called) no longer exists. Thirty years have passed since Ozawa was in his 40s when he became secretary-general. You never know what will happen in the political sphere.”
Koizumi and Ozawa were once solid supporters of nuclear energy. But the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant turned the two into nuclear energy opponents.
Koizumi has been most visible in his calls for moving away from nuclear energy, but Ozawa has also praised that stance, at one time saying, “His conclusion is what most people would reach if they were thinking calmly about Japan’s future.”
The June 10 election for Niigata governor was the direct catalyst for the invite to Koizumi to speak at Ozawa’s political school.
The election pitted a candidate backed by the ruling coalition against two others, including one supported by five opposition parties, among them Ozawa’s Liberal Party.
When Koizumi spoke in Niigata Prefecture on May 23, the opposition-backed candidate was in attendance.
The initial plan was for the candidate to simply listen to Koizumi’s lecture. But Ozawa told the camp that it should ask Koizumi to introduce the candidate and urge the audience to support the anti-nuclear stance of the candidate.
In the end, the ruling coalition candidate won the election.
Ozawa is hoping that Koizumi’s cooperation will rattle the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is seen as a protege of Koizumi.
The former mentor has repeatedly and publicly criticized the Abe administration’s support for nuclear energy, and said he would work against any candidate who promoted nuclear power.
Koizumi said that even if Abe wins a third term as LDP president in autumn and continues as prime minister, there is no guarantee his administration will remain in power considering an Upper House election is scheduled for 2019.