Friday, September 22, 2006

Why Prime Minister Koizumi Chose Shinzo Abe as His Successor

One of the abiding mysteries of the Koizumi era has been, why Abe? Why did Koizumi insist on pushing Mr. Abe as his successor? It's moot now, but I'm still curious.

At first glance, Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe are an odd couple, one an often-rumpled bachelor with an unruly mop top whose most effective public communication tool is a gruff burst of well-timed sound bites. the other an always impeccably dressed and groomed husband who tirelessly delivers wonkishly detailed answers with an unfailing politeness.

The politically correct answer is probably that Mr. Abe was most inclined to continue Koizumi's legacy as a reformer than the other putative pretenders. However, Mr. Koizumi did not have much of a chance to know that when Mr. Abe appointed him as deputy cabinet chief. Moreover, Mr. Abe has not been at the forefront of Mr. Koizumi’s boldest initiatives. Instead, it has been Mr. Takenaka, the Koizumi surrogate on the domestic front, who has taken all the heat. When it came to the politically all-important privatization of the postal system, the most Mr. Abe would be willing to do was to be dragged along with the rest of the crowd. True, Mr. Abe seems to be an instinctive champion of small government. But, as the political consensus shifts toward amending "the excesses" of the Koizumi reform, the gap between even Sadakazu Tanigaki and Mr. Abe seem small, more a matter of sequencing than anything else. Put it this way: Would Mr. Tanigaki have taken pains to create a distinction between the Koizumi legacy and himself (or the media play up such differences as there are, which amounts to the same thing) if Mr. Tamigaki had been the heir apparent?

The Japan-US alliance and the overseas projection of the Self-Defense Force, albeit within a strictly internationalist context, are the heart and soul of Mr. Koizumi’s foreign and security policy, a policy stance shared by Mr. Abe. And Mr. Koizumi has been more than willing to push the rewriting of the Constitution to further this end, an agenda likewise shared by Mr. Abe. But these views are shared by most of the LDP. And Mr. Abe's to-do list for constitutional amendment is much longer and more comprehensive than Mr. Koizumi's. It encompasses a resurrection of what he views as the traditional value of the Japanese nation. And it is here that there is a fundamental divide between the two. But And the rather cavalier treatment Mr. Koizumi gave to the solution to what was then a looming Imperial succession crisis reinforces my conviction that there s a considerable distance between the ways they regard our national heritage. This divide is apparent in their relationship to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe have both made a point of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to honor the dead. But the similarities in their respective versions of nationalism end there. Mr. Abe's Yasukuni is the place where those who made the ultimate sacrifice to the modern nation state are exalted. It is not for us to judge whether the objectives of that particular nation state were any worse than those of others who played the Great Game. Mr. Koizumi has a sharply contrasting view of the war. For him, it was just plain wrong, and the Class-A War Criminals are responsible. (So far, this dovetails with this entry.) But, as with so many Japanese who lost friends, relatives, family, the presence of those war criminals does not really bother him. This is where the souls of my people rest, and those guys are all dead anyway. Death and time dissipate Japanese resentments with facility. In this respect, Mr. Koizumi is arguably closer to Mr. Fukuda than Mr. Abe. Some doubt the sincerity of Mr. Koizumi's convictions, but the tears are genuine. At worst, he is displaying the natural politician’s gift of believing what he preaches. In essence, Yasukuni divides, not unite, Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe.

A veteran journalist who has covered the kantei=prime-minister beat for a long time once told me that, for Mr. Koizumi, it was anyone but Fukuda. And no, it had nothing to do with Yasuo Fukuda's decidedly dovish views. The story was that after losing his first election, Mr. Koizumi went to Takeo Fukuda, his faction head and father of Yasuo, to serve his political apprenticeship, and never forgot the humiliation at being regarded as a glorified political intern. (The Postal Office electoral machine threw its support to Koizumi's opponent in that first election, a factor many see as having contributed to his persistence in breaking up the state monopoly-conglomerate and another in several examples of his sense of grievance.) The younger Mr. Fukuda, in contrast, was given the royal treatment as the heir-apparent. This explanation dovetails neatly with Mr. Koizumi's his last post-electoral landslide victory makeover, when Mr. Fukuda was the only one of the four likelひょy candidates to be left out in the cold. But this explanation conveniently ignores the fact that Mr. Fukuda served as Mr. Koizumi’s high profile Chief of Cabinet, and would have remained so if he had not resigned to take the heat off the Koizumi regime for the national pension non-payment scandal that swept both the LDP and JDP leaderships. That initial appointment would have been a strange way to avenge his humiliation, real or imagined.

So if it is not policy or outlook that unite the two, what is it then?

Maybe the reason is nothing more than the fact that Mr. Abe became by far the most popular candidate. For a politician, winning is everything. And if anything, Mr. Koizumi is a consummate politician, whose ability to read the political winds to place bets that win, and win big, is unsurpassed. Mr. Koizumi saw Mr. Abe rise to the top despite his youth and meager track record, and sensed his staying power. And it turns out he won again.

Perhaps there is a little bit of truth in all the answers. But the political bandwagon theory is the most convincing one to me.

(There is another intriguing suggestion made to me by a veteran Japan hand that "putting Abe forward was [Koizumi'] s last strike at the LDP, inevitably pushing toward the LDP's demise." Indeed, the youthful Mr. Abe's ascendance has likely doomed the factions as pseudo-families for political capos competing to be the Don, as well as putting to rest to any remaining ambitions on the part of the old guard. I would be happy to give him credit by name, if he actually visits this blog and says so.)






あるベテランジャーナリストで長年官邸番を張ってきた人が、あるとき私に言いました、小泉さんにとって、福田でなければ誰でもよかったのだ、と。そう、そしてこれは福田康夫自身の、明らかにハト派的な考え方が理由なのではない。要するに、小泉氏は、初めての国会選挙に敗れた後、福田康夫の父親であり派閥の長である赳夫氏の下で政治家修行を行なうことになったが、そこで見習い扱いを受けたことの屈辱的思いを決して忘れることがなかった。(小泉氏の初選挙で、郵便局の選挙組織は、別の自民党候補を応援した。このことが、小泉氏が郵政という国家独占複合企業体の解体に執着する結果となったのであり、それはまた、小泉氏の遺恨の一例であるという考え方を多くの人々がとっている。) これとは対照的に、康夫氏は、父親の後継者として下にも置かれない丁寧な扱いを受けていた、というのです。この説明は、確かに、参院選大勝利後の最後の内閣改造で、四人の総裁候補と目されている人々の中で、福田氏だけが要職に就かなかったことと平仄が合っています。しかし、この説明は、福田氏が小泉内閣の官房長官として任命されて人目を引いており、しかも、もし、自民、民主両党を覆った、国民年金掛金未払スキャンダルで小泉政権にこれ以上累が及ばないことを確保するために辞任していなければ、その後も職にとどまっていたであろうことを無視しています。





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