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Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Japan’s new leader needs results fast

April 25, 2001

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— He won a stunning upset by promising to bust up the ruling party's cliques, cure the economy and get the jaded public excited about politics. Now, with Junichiro Koizumi poised to be named prime minister, Japanese were looking for more than just rhetoric.

Koizumi is to be voted in as prime minister Thursday by parliament after he won the presidency of the majority Liberal Democratic Party in a party election Tuesday. He soundly beat the favorite of the party's old guard, Ryutaro Hashimoto, in the 293-155 vote.

Koizumi's victory came on a ground-swell of support from party members across Japan alienated by the LDP's corruption scandals, opaque policy making and economic bungling.

But his honeymoon may be short, with disillusionment high and many in the public expecting real change.

"I have mixed feelings," Yoshinori Ando, 37, said as he sat at a sidewalk cafe, sipping a soft drink and reading a newspaper. "I like his message, but I'm still waiting for a concrete idea of his vision."

Asked about his economic revival plan, Koizumi smiled and dodged: "I haven't decided on my Cabinet yet, so I can't say." The former health minister with little experience on an international stage also said little on foreign affairs, saying only that the U.S.-Japan relationship will be the "foundation" of his foreign policy.

He also appeared to soften his stance against old-style LDP dealmaking. "Politics is about compromise, people say. Sometimes I'll have to compromise. Sometimes I'll have to push my views," he said.

For now, Koizumi, 59, appears to have captured the hearts of many people with his straight talk and common touch. A divorced father and a fan of rock music, he represents a less tradition-bound Japan than many other politicians. His long silvery locks and sharp ties set him apart from his staid ruling-party colleagues.

His challenge, however, is all the more formidable because parliamentary elections are slated for July. That means he has to deliver results fast.

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