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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Koizumi ascendance shows Japan's unease

Surprising even the nominee, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has chosen Junichiro Koizumi over the favorite of the party's old guard, former prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, to replace the unpopular and ineffective outgoing leader, Yoshiro Mori.

The new LDP leader automatically becomes prime minister because of the party's domination in Japan's Diet.

The choice of Koizumi reflects the frustration of the Japanese public with the nation's inability to change despite deepening long-term economic malaise. Hashimoto's most memorable accomplishment in his short stint as prime minister was to plunge the nation into recession with an ill-advised tax hike.

Koizumi, though his agenda is vague, talks reform. That was enough among his LDP colleagues to upset Hashimoto.

But it may not be enough to satisfy Japanese voters. The probability is that, for the second time since World War II, the LDP will be voted out of power in parliamentary elections in July.

The result could be a new, broader coalition led by Koizumi and the LDP — or a new prime minister completely untarred by association with the often corrupt and inept LDP.

The prospect scares the conservative Japanese public almost as much as the status quo.