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Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006
LDP election broke with norm
By MASAMI ITO
The Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election came and went Wednesday without much excitement or mystery, and Shinzo Abe is now LDP president as expected.
Although it's usual for the media to focus on one candidate before the election, analysts say it is extremely rare that the party leader was unofficially chosen months ago.
According to Rei Shiratori, a political science professor at Tokai University, it happened this time because Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi himself was grooming Abe as his successor.
Unlike the other candidates, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who have been politicians for more than two decades, Abe is relatively young, has no experience in a ministerial position and has been in politics for only 13 years.
One major post he held in the LDP, however, was secretary general, and he was nominated for the job by Koizumi, Shiratori pointed out.
"Abe has no choice but to adhere to Koizumi's (policies) to a certain degree," he said. "Without Koizumi's guidance, Abe would never have become party president."
Abe won 464 votes, or 66 percent of the total, although he had reportedly been shooting for more than 70 percent. Aso came in second with 136 and Tanigaki got 102.
People all over Japan had predicted the outcome for months -- begging the question of why Aso and Tanigaki even bothered to run.
"They are positioning themselves for the next presidential election," Shiratori said, pointing out that the Abe government may have a short life span, especially if the LDP does poorly in next year's Upper House election.
By running now, both Aso and Tanigaki have built up name recognition throughout Japan.
One important objective for Abe after he's elected prime minister Tuesday is to tackle what has become known as the disparity issue, Shiratori said. This is the perception that economic and social disparities were created during Koizumi's tenure and are growing.
Critics say that since Koizumi took over, gaps between cities and rural areas have widened to the detriment of many small and midsize companies.
Abe based his campaign on building "a society that will reward those who make efforts" and provide "a second chance" for business failures.
"From the beginning of his administration, Abe has to shoulder the contradiction that while maintaining Koizumi's (policies), he also has to address their negative effects and separate and correct Koizumi's policies," Shiratori said.
Mitsuru Uchida, a professor emeritus of political science at Waseda University, stressed that Abe also needs to rebuild relationships with Japan's neighbors.
Thanks to Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where not only the country's war dead but also 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined, relations with neighboring countries like South Korea and China have become strained.
"A person can change his or her neighbor by relocating, but a country can't move," Uchida said. "That is the country's fate. And there is no future for Japan without having a relationship with its neighboring countries."
Uchida added that Abe must not follow Koizumi's method of making decisions without listening to other opinions.
"Koizumi completely ignored minority opinions within the LDP as well as the opposition," he said. "It is not just about results -- it is also about how to (get agreements) on your policies democratically."
A stark instance of this would be Koizumi's hatchet job on the LDP lawmakers who opposed his postal privatization efforts last summer.
Koizumi not only refused to endorse them as official LDP candidates in the Lower House elections in September 2005, he selected candidates characterized as "assassins" to run against them in their home districts.
In the end, he booted them out of the party.
Some of those "rebels" went independent, while others built or joined other parties. But now, Abe is hinting he may welcome some of them back into the LDP.
"It is opportunism," Uchida said. Abe "is saying that (he may welcome the postal rebels back) in order to win the Upper house election."
Uchida criticized the LDP for its opportunistic approach -- kicking them out when they were in the way of passing a bill but welcoming them back to win an election.
"The LDP needs to publicly admit that it went too far last year," Uchida said. "As the leading party, it needs to develop democracy -- not destroy it."
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