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Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009

Resurgent Kamei ready to make waves again


Staff writer

Shizuka Kamei, former policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, has emerged once again as a key player in a coalition government, overcoming a political setback suffered from his opposition to the postal privatization plan championed by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

News photo
Seat at the table?: Shizuka Kamei, leader of Kokumin Shinto, speaks during an interview with The Japan Times in March 2008. JAPAN TIMES PHOTO

Kamei's resistance got him expelled from the LDP in 2005, but the 72-year-old veteran is now back as the head of Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party), one of the parties that will make up the new ruling coalition government.

Kamei's comeback as postal minister will accelerate the DPJ's apparent retreat from the privatization plan. The three ruling parties — the DPJ, Kokumin Shinto and the Social Democratic Party — have already agreed to freeze an earlier plan to sell stock to fully privatize two of the four postal firms.

Kamei, formerly an elite bureaucrat in the National Police Agency, was elected from a rural part of Hiroshima Prefecture. He is known as a vocal critic of what he calls "American market-mechanism fundamentalism" and a staunch opponent of Self-Defense Force missions overseas that support U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

Whether Kamei, who will concurrently serve as financial services minister, will soften his radical criticism of the U.S. will be closely watched.

"Market-mechanism fundamentalism has spread and deregulation has been promoted in Japan, which is following the American-type globalism of the law of the jungle," Kamei's Web site says in explaining his policy proposals.

Last October, as the crisis triggered by the collapse of trading house Lehman Brothers began threatening the global financial system, Kamei's Kokumin Shinto proposed indefinitely suspending the mark-to-market accounting rule and abolishing the capital adequacy ratio rules for domestic banks as emergency response measures.

Kamei was a foe of Koizumi, who pushed an austere fiscal policy and earnestly supported the military alliance with the United States. Kamei advocates super-aggressive fiscal spending to prop up ailing regional economies and massive use of government bonds to pay for it.

For better or worse, Kamei is a powerful figure who has always seemed to cause a stir when holding key positions in the government or the LDP.

Immediately after his Cabinet appointment was reported Tuesday, Kamei put financial institutions on alert by saying he will consider introducing a debt moratorium program for small and midsize companies. Kamei argues that small, weak firms in rural areas should be protected by the government.

As transport minister in 1994, he tried to stop airlines from hiring temporary workers as female flight attendants, saying it would downgrade crew quality and endanger flight safety.

As construction minister in 1997, he canceled several "wasteful" public works projects, including a dam.

As LDP policy chief in 2000, Kamei urged department store operator Sogo to drop its request for debt waivers from creditors, which eventually prompted it to abandon a reconstruction attempt and file for bankruptcy.


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