Dismissal of Makiko Tanaka and Its Implications for the Koizumi Administration
Tomohiko TANIGUCHI (GLOCOM Fellow)
This commentary originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum"(http://lists.nbr.org/japanforum) on January 30, 2002; posted here with the author's permission.
As regards to the ousting of Makiko Tanaka, I am pretty much certain that Koizumi pulled the final string himself. Shinzo Abe, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, knew nothing as of 10:00 PM last night (Jan, 29 - Japan time) about what would happen to Tanaka, although he was wondering about Nogami, MoFA's deputy. He sounded as if the entire cabinet would have to cohabitate in one way or another with this trouble maker (Tanaka) whose chronic illnesses include making false arguments once every three minutes - no exaggeration - as long as Koizumi holds office.
Koizumi I think, did what he should have done much earlier. Tanaka not being an asset but a liability for his administration, added to the fact that she needs, put bluntly, psychiatric treatment, came to be known amongst the nation's members of the media at about the time she refused to meet Armitage. Koizumi simply had had to wait for the time to ripen, until what the political circle and the media had known of Tanaka came to be shared widely enough by the voting public at large. And the time, I suppose, in the eyes of Koizumi ripened finally late last night.
I would bet on the possibility that Koizumi will emerge from this fiasco with a poll rating slightly shrunk, though more cemented and reliable, as he has shown that he can bite the bullet. It will however remain the case that the success and failure of his administration continues to hinge on the polls. Without, say, the poll number showing at least 50% of the people are in favour of him, he cannot embark on any execution process which he promised that he would start last year.
What he attempted to do last year was basically to set up theatres of war against the vested interest. That those with vested interests within the LDP have had to agree on where the theatres should be is indicative that Koizumi has not lost but gained ground in the battle between them.
From now on, of interest are the following items. (1) He said that the cabinet should be made independent from the ruling party in planning policies, and be empowered so that the cabinet can bypass the party in proposing any legislative bills. This is important as he promised that he would deliver tax reforms and it has been the very area of taxes where the party's power has been most distinguishable. Can he do this? (2) It has already been "penned-in" that the nation's postal system will be half-detached from the government and that the government will make the Highway Agency a private entity. This being a theatre set, battles will be fiercely fought between him and the LDP die-hards as to how, and how far the reforms can go. Without public support, he can win neither of the above for they are hard-core issues. (3) Japan's economy is undergoing a process of brutal adjustment before reaching the end of the tunnel, from whence shedding blood would become rather commonplace. Over the last couple of days an Asahi Insurance board member killed himself in a pretty much brutal fashion, culminating in a collapse of the merger talks between the insurance company and Tokio Marine. Asahi Insurance is on a fragile tight rope. A run could also happen any time against another Asahi, the smallest as well as the weakest money centre bank. The next time the government has to inject capital into the banking system, which has indeed been long overdue, the decision would most surely involve not only nationalising major banks but also writing-off a substantial amount of non performing loans, which then will result in a chain of business failures. One industry estimate holds that there could be as many as 90,000 failures amongst small-and-medium-sized companies. All this being so, he must tell the nation that they have to endure. That would take an enormous amount of political capital.
The list thus can go on, and I for one can only hope that Koizumi, with his trouble-making colleague left behind, will eventually come out as a winner, for ironically, what Margaret Thatcher often said holds neatly here: There is no alternative (in many senses).