- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

No one in Japans world of power politics gave Junichiro Koizumi any chance of becoming prime minister. He offended too many vested interests, and he never combed his hair.
But the cause of economic reform that Mr. Koizumi, 59, championed was not ridiculous to the Japanese people. And in the race to lead his nation, he has won.
Mr. Koizumi is to be voted in as prime minister today by parliament, after winning the presidency of the majority Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a party election Tuesday.
Mr. Koizumi, a maverick who has pledged to turn around Japans slowing economy, was elected by the ruling party in a stunning upset of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. That all but secures Mr. Koizumis nomination later this week by parliament to head the government.
Mr. Koizumi will be Japans ninth prime minister in just 10 years. He takes over from Yoshiro Mori, who Mr. Bush met at the White House last month.
Mr. Koizumis upset began Saturday when rank-and-file members of LDP chapters throughout the nation gave him an unprecedented victory in defiance of party elders, who favored former Mr. Hashimoto.
With local party members disgusted by a series of LDP corruption scandals, opaque policy making and economic mistakes, party leaders had little choice but go along in a final vote Tuesday on the party presidency.
Hiromu Nonaka, the backroom organizer of the Hashimoto faction, reluctantly condeded that his boss could no longer win.
The most he dared say was to appeal to LDP party members to "make efforts to see that Hashimotos policies are reflected in those of the new leader," supporters in parliament.
If the inner circle of "60-something" gray men had been allowed to pick their partys leader, in the past, Mr. Koizumi would never have had a chance.
He was never gray. He reveled in being a maverick and speaking his mind, which is why, though a former health and welfare minister, he had not found a ministerial post in recent governments.
Among leaders who for decades have been obsessed with blending into the background, each as anonymously interchangeable in public as the rest, Mr. Koizumi reveled in being himself.
Instead of being forgettably elegant, he liked to leave his hair tousled.
He was the only Japanese political leader in modern history who dared to do so.
Mr. Koizumi was also ready to offend powerful established interests an unheard of heresy in the LDP which had prospered for nearly half a century precisely by protecting wealthy insider groups.
He advocated the only real measure of serious financial reform that any of the candidates for the party leadership dared utter. He wants to privatize the huge savings reserves of Japans mighty postal savings service.
Pressed for details on his policies at his first news conference after the party election, the triumphant dark horse gave few clues.
Asked about his economic revival plan, Mr. Koizumi smiled — and dodged: "I havent decided on my Cabinet yet, so I cant say."
He also said little on foreign affairs, saying only that the U.S.-Japanese relationship will be the "foundation" of his foreign policy.
For now, however, Mr. Koizumi has touched the hearts of ordinary Japanese with his plain talk and promises of reform.
His challenge is all the more formidable because parliamentary elections are slated for July.
That means he has to deliver results fast.
"Public opinion is not something you can rely on. It can fade," Takashi Inoguchi, a politics professor at Tokyo University, told the Associated Press.
Mr. Bush said through a spokes-man that he looks forward to working with the new prime minister.
"Japan is a very important ally to this country, and whoever the Japanese select to lead the government, the president will look forward to working closely with," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

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