Koizumi's strategic goals remain unclear

Posted in Asia | 24-Sep-05 | Author: Robert Dujarric

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Koizumi's gamble paid off. But what will he do with his victory? Margaret Thatcher, like Koizumi, transformed her Conservative Party. She used her political victories to undertake a massive restructuring of Britain along liberal lines. Her legacy was so strong that the Labor Party only returned to power after Tony Blair transformed it into a (partial) clone of Thatcherism.

In the case of Koizumi, it is unclear if he has a strategic goal. Though some aspects of the economy have been liberalized, there is much to be done. Optimists argue that even highly effective leaders like Thatcher took many years to implement their reforms. They add that, despite recent changes, prime ministers in Japan lack the power and authority of the "elected dictator" that a British prime minister can achieve.

Others, however, believe that Koizumi is but a tactician. He wants to destroy hostile factions and restructure the LDP. But, they tell us, he has no strategic vision. If Koizumi wants to be remembered as having revived the economy in the face of domestic opposition, he must have a strategy. He also would have to abandon his pledge to leave office at the end of his term and force the LDP to keep him as president of the party.

Robert Dujarric is member of the WSN International Advisory Board
Robert Dujarric is member of the WSN International Advisory Board
He would need to think about what reforms can be undertaken and which ones are impossible. Should he seek to drastically cut the farm subsidies and import restrictions that impoverish the Japanese people? Should he push for a much stronger antitrust regime? Or should he continue to slash construction spending? Or should reform of the land-use regulations be a key of his administration? Even Thatcher chose her targets, avoiding those where there was no hope of victory.

What is certain is that if Koizumi wants to go down in history as a great leader, he must tackle the demographic abyss into which Japan is plunging. This entails, first and foremost, focusing his energy on a more efficient use of female labor in the economy while creating an environment that makes it possible for women to work and have children. If gender equality becomes Koizumi's legacy, he will be remembered as the savior of Japan's economy.

--Robert Dujarric, visiting research fellow (IHT/Asahi: September 21,2005)