Saturday, September 3, 2005

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Attack of the lipstick ninjas

In the Washington Post, Anthony Faiola reports that Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi is pulling out all the stops in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Japan:

Armed to the teeth with blood-red lipstick and a killer smile, Yuriko Koike stormed the streets in a working-class neighborhood here with rapid-fire handshakes and a brigade of young campaign aides wearing hot-pink T-shirts and waving rose-colored flags. One of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's hit squad of female "assassins," the former anchorwoman vowed to take no prisoners in Japan's nationwide elections a week from Sunday.

"This is a ground battle for reform!" Koike, 53, shouted through a bullhorn to her giddy audience. "Let's change Japan!"

Koike joined a star-studded cast of female candidates sent out on the campaign trail this week by Koizumi, who has vowed to resign if his fractured Liberal Democratic Party fails to win control of Japan's lower house on Sept. 11. The women -- now ubiquitously referred to in the national media as Koizumi's assassins -- also include Satsuki Katayama, a model-turned-bureaucrat, and Makiko Fujino, Japanese television's version of Martha Stewart. Their mission: to take out the prime minister's political enemies in the old boys' network that long held sway over the LDP.

The women embody Koizumi's strategy of putting a new face on the stodgy, conservative party that has ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era. In a country where only a small percentage of elected officials are female and women are still expected to pour tea for male co-workers and defer to their husbands, Koizumi's "new LDP" is fielding a record 26 women in the upcoming race, more than double last year's number.

More important, Koizumi, 63, chose Koike and eight other well-known, successful women to run in key races. They are opposing the powerful hard-liners whom Koizumi effectively purged from the party after they voted against his bill to privatize Japan's massive postal service, the centerpiece of his plan to reform the world's second-largest economy. Rejection of that bill in August led Koizumi to angrily dissolve the lower house and put his job on the line by calling new elections in which he has vowed "to change or destroy" the LDP....

Koizumi's popularity is soaring ahead of the vote -- particularly among such nontraditional LDP voting groups as younger people and urbanites.

"There's no way around it," said Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University in Tokyo. "Koizumi is a political genius. His creation of the assassin candidates has captured the public's imagination."

Indeed, Koizumi's daring approach has surprised a nation used to consensus politics, titillating the press and jolting many Japanese out of their state of political apathy. Public opinion polls indicate heightened interest in the elections.

posted by Dan on 09.03.05 at 12:44 AM


This is actually a hugely fascinating story, and may signal a sea change in how Japanese politics works in the future. For the four decades until the ending of LDP hegemony in 1993, and for most of the time since then, the key political struggles in Japan have been between the various factions in the LDP itself. After losing to one of the factions, the normal response was for factions to reshuffle and the LDP to choose a new PM, but Koizumi is choosing to take what would have been an internal LDP fight to a general election. It's weird to think of a country with democratically elected leaders for nearly six decades as undergoing a serious move towards democratization, but in a way, that's what's really happening in Japan right now.

posted by: Tom on 09.03.05 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

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