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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #309: September 5, 2005

Japan's Koizumi denies speculation will stay prime minister beyond Sept 2006

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan's Koizumi denies speculation will stay prime minister beyond Sept 2006
(AFX News) Forbes


While there is still six more days to go before the general election on Sunday 11th, people are beginning to speculate on things to expect after that. Current polls show that the ruling coalition of LDP and Komeito, excluding those LDP members who opposed the Postal Reform bill, is likely to obtain clear majority and then some. If LDP gathers a comfortable volume of votes, it is clear that Mr Koizumi will stay as the Prime Minister. But for how long is now being assessed by critics.

Japan is a nation run under parliamentary cabinet system, modeled after the U.K. since the Meiji Restoration. Thus the Prime Minister is designated by the diet. (More specifically, the lower house has supremacy over the upper house in designating a prime minister, which is one of very few areas where the lower house overpower the upper house.) Traditionally, and for very practical reasons, it has been the case that the leader of the party holding majority of the lower house - or the head of a party as agreed among themselves in case of a coalition - be designated as the Prime Minister.

Presently the by-law of the ruling LDP stipulates the term of its president to last for 2 years with allowance to be reelected once - effectively restricting the term in office for 4 years. In case of Mr Koizumi, his term as the president of the LDP expires next September, a year from the coming election. As such, some, especially those supporting Mr Koizumi, began to float the idea of extending the term for, say, a year. After all, it is only a by-law of a party, which can be changed solely by the wills of its members without any legal or structural limitations. If extended, it would provide for Mr Koizumi to carry on the reform he has initiated effectively, especially once his policy agenda is approved by the people. There are some who would even comment that if Mr Koizumi were to quit after only a year of winning support, it would be a "bad faith" for the people voted for him.

In the days when the Prime Ministership was a game of musical chairs played among the political heavy weights behind the closed doors of the LDP caucus, limiting the term would be a way to check the balance of power among themselves so as to maintain the continuity of policies that favor old guards and vested interests. It was an effective system to conserve the benefits enjoyed by who had come to possess them. In that sense the current by-law seems to contradict with what Mr Koizumi himself has been purporting - a political reform.

On the other hand, there are those who think, while supporting his reform, Mr Koizumi should step down as scheduled. Their thinking is based on the general conception that one person staying in power too long has historically - and globally - too often brought unpleasant outcomes, and limitation of terms in office for government leaders seen in many countries are the measures implemented out of experience. Besides, they say, the thrust of the reform Mr Koizumi initiated has already become a part of Japan's political scene - to stay and irreversible.

As the general election date still coming up, most of the people have not yet given thought to the issue. In fact, those who oppose Mr Koizumi are busy trying to bring him down. But the question as to whether the will of the people can be, in a way, sidetracked by a mere by-law of a party is a viable question. This is but one of many issues, perhaps defects, that became evident during the recent years. The election this weekend, whatever the result, will be a good opportunity to start reviewing Japan's political system, from the Constitution to the behaviors of pressure groups.

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