- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Professor Ellis S. Krauss is a specialist on Japanese politics at the University of California at San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. He spoke to Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi this week about the Japanese ruling party's response to economic challenges and the changing role of the country's prime minister.

Question: Some criticize Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for breaking so many promises. But even when Mr. Koizumi blurted out that breaking political promises was "no big deal," very few Japanese reacted angrily. Why is that?
Answer: I think people are alienated and beaten down, and so cynical now that they don't know what to do. I think that Japan in the last 15 years or so has gone through the cycle of reformism followed by disillusionment, followed by alienation. And I think we may be entering the alienation phase again.
I think we really start from former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa [a politician who bolted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in 1992 to found the reformist New Japan party. When the combined opposition won the 1993 election, he helped create an eight-party coalition that elected him prime minister, ending the LDP's 38-year domination of Japanese politics.
In the same election, comedians "Knock" Yokoyama became governor of Osaka and Yukio Aoshima, governor of Tokyo. Mr. Hosokawa lost the top post in 1994 owing to a corruption scandal. …
That was a reformist period. And you got Mr. Hosokawa, and total disillusionment, and both governors turned out to be a disappointment. … At that point, I think the public just went into the period of alienation.
And then Mr. Koizumi comes on. A new hero and new savior comes riding on a white horse young, handsome, mediagenic, just like Mr. Hosokawa except this time in the LDP.
He promises to attack his own party, which is a very popular thing to do. So there is disillusionment with the LDP, and he knows what to do. People get hope again. There is a huge surge of optimism …
Now after a year and a half of only partial reforms and change, we are back into the disillusionment phase. It's been fairly consistent patterns to the last 10, 15 years. I think that cycle is probably going to continue, because public expectations about change are too unreasonably high … . I think the public is going to be doomed to disappointment for a while, unless there is reorganization of the LDP.

Q: Does the LDP split?
A: The party splits. And a new party is composed of reformists from the LDP and the DPJ [Democratic Party of Japan]. Without the LDP splitting, the DPJ alone is not effective. It is a divided party without a clear identity. The DPJ cannot decide what it wants to do, or what kind of party it wants to be.

Q: Whenever veteran politicians propose former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, many people seem to defend Mr. Koizumi.
A: I think people like Mr. Hashimoto and others are playing the politics of the past. This is the politics before electoral reform, before the television age, before the administrative reform. A prime minister now is no longer dependent on factions as he used to be.
As you know, the old game was factions. Rivals would criticize, undermine your power until you are out of office in two years, for somebody else to come in. I think they are still trying to play the game. It's not going to work, because that's the old game.
The other thing is that all [veteran LDP members] can do is nibble him to death. I use the word "nibble" to take small little bites. They really can't take a big bite out of him.
They have a major dilemma, the same dilemma that Mr. Hashimoto and others have since Mr. Koizumi came to power: They need him to win elections so they can't undermine him too much, and they can't get rid of him … I just don't think that the situations are going to change unless Mr. Koizumi is going to make major mistakes about Iraq, which I don't think he is going to do.
I think he would like to support the U.S. more than he is, but he can't, given public opinion. At the same time, he doesn't want to alienate the U.S. because he personally supports the American policy. But he was very skillful in saying nothing [before the U.S. to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ultimatum Monday].
If you watch what he has said about the U.N. and Iraq, he said nothing except: "We support the United States, and we support international collaboration and security." Basically, he was trying to have it both ways. He managed very skillfully to avoid getting in the situation which France and Germany are in. I think that is, frankly, the only smart thing for Japan to do.
The only smart thing for Japan to do is to stay on the sidelines.
What will happen with North Korea, though, is a much more dangerous and unknowable situation for Mr. Koizumi, and for everyone in the world.

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