Koizumi, Junichiro

Koizumi, Junichiro
▪ 2002

      In 2001 the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had dominated Japan's politics since 1955, experienced an intraparty revolt. Unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori had been selected by backroom party barons, and LDP members and local legislators demanded that the next party president be chosen by the rank and file. Under pressure, Mori resigned on April 6. The candidate favoured to succeed him was 59-year-old Junichiro Koizumi, who was a longtime member of the Diet (parliament) but had only limited cabinet experience and national exposure as a politician. In fact, Koizumi ranked second in most public opinion polls behind a popular woman, Makiko Tanaka (q.v.), who eventually withdrew as a candidate.

      Koizumi subsequently opened a whirlwind campaign. With his mop of gray-flecked hair and trendy wardrobe, the new candidate was an interesting and charismatic presence on television and one who proved especially appealing to women. He spoke in a positive fashion. His campaign slogan, “Saa! kaeyo . . . ” (“Well! Let's go back . . . [to prosperity]”), was seen on posters all over the country. Among other proposals, Koizumi advocated economic reform as a means of solving Japan's towering debt. He urged that pressure be applied to banks, whose nonperforming loans had risen by 15% during the previous year. He did relatively well in urban areas, where the LDP had traditionally managed only slim support.

      In the party primaries, Koizumi won significant majorities. On April 24 he was elected president of the LDP by a sizable margin. Two days later he was confirmed by the Diet as the nation's 87th prime minister.

      Koizumi was born on Jan. 8, 1942, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. He was a member of an established political family; both his father and grandfather served in the Diet. Koizumi graduated from Keio University, Tokyo, with a degree in economics. While he was a graduate student at the London School of Economics, his father died; Koizumi returned to Japan and ran for the Diet himself but lost. He ran again three years later, however, and was successful, and he thereafter was reelected to the Diet 10 consecutive times.

      Since Koizumi's confirmation by the Diet as prime minister was made possible by a strategic alliance between the LDP and a number of smaller parties, the new prime minister's cabinet was quite unusual. It included members of the alliance parties but relatively few representatives of the powerful factions that had long dominated the LDP. For the first time in Japan's history, five women were given portfolios, including Tanaka, who became the first woman to be named foreign minister.

Ardath W. Burks

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Universalium. 2010.

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