Koizumi Jun'ichirō took office in 2001 with a raft of policy options in his pockets--but a single, strategic objective in mind. Policies came and went, were amended, watered down, twisted and rejected. However, Koizumi's pursuit of the objective remained unshaken, even as his support tumbled to 33% in January of 2005.
Imbue the prime ministership with an awesome power.
His every gesture, his every shift and pivot was calculated to draw attention, funding and loyalty away from other centers. Rather than just be a member of the Diet elected to the presidency of Liberal Democratic Party through concessions and promises to party leaders, Koizumi created the position of the nationally-elected prime minister, winning election thanks to overwhelming support from the rank and file in the local chapters -- persons his policies were destined to betray.
They did not care. They saw in him a winner.
The key to Koizumi's genius was a simple proposition: when the prime minister says something, he means what he says. When Koizumi promised he would visit Yasukuni on the August 15 festival day, despite the fury such an action would provoke on the Korean peninsula and in China, he went ahead and did it anyway (Oh, he took his time about it...and gave the Koreans and Chinese lots of different looks at halfway to a classic Yasukuni sanpai. When they refused to countenance any of his less fraught options, he let them have the full August 15 extravaganza.) When he warned the LDP members of the House of Councillors to stand with him on the postal reform bill, otherwise he would dissolve the House of Representatives, many a pompous twit thought he was joking.
He was not.
The people loved him for it.
One of his formers rivals in the post office privatization fracas --I believe it was Kamei Shizuka -- actually said, at some point during the Abe Administration:
"I opposed nearly everything Koizumi was trying to do. But damnation, when he said something, you knew where he stood on the issue!"
Koizumi's successors have frittered, fumbled or tossed away his legacy, mostly to save their own political skins on some issue in the short term.
However, on Friday when Prime Minister Asō Tarō, in his usual breezy, too honest way, admitted that he had voted for the postal privatization laws and had continued serving as minister of posts and telecommunications -- even while in his heart of hearts opposing the legislation -- he did not just repudiate the Koizumi legacy, he danced a jig upon the prone form of Koizumi's greatest achievement.
Even Koizumi, who as a part of his plan to burnish the post of prime minister had refused to criticize his successors, even when they committed dumb, easily remedied mistakes, could no longer keep his peace.
"The most important thing in politics is a sense of trust. When the word of a prime minister cannot be trusted, one cannot contest an election."
Whether Koizumi's bitter laughter will mean anything is hard to say. The press went bananas at the former much-beloved PM saying that he can only laugh at the current occupant of the prime ministerial office.
Within the Diet and the LDP, however, the response to Koizumi's criticism was little more than a shrug. While the old familiar faces from the glory days were present at yesterday's "Gathering to Promote the Adherence to the Privatization of the Post Office" -- Koizumi, Nakagawa Hidenao, Koike Yuriko, Shiozaki Yasuhisa, Takebe Tsutomu, Ishihara Nobuteru, Katayama Satsuki, Satō Yukari and Yamamoto Ichita -- very few new folks showed up. Indeed, very few folks at all showed up - just 18 members of the Diet were at the meeting, a testament to the collapse within the LDP of confidence in the Koizumi economic and structural reforms. Most stunningly, only six of the eighty-one members of the Koizumi Kiddie Korps - first-termers like Koike, Satō, Fujita Mikio, Katayama, Ono Jirō and Hirotsu Motoko -- showed.
This is not a revolution in the making, my friends.
At least not from within the LDP.
The game changer will have to come from elsewhere.
* "Okoru yori waracchau kurai, tada tada akirete iru."
** "Seiji ni ichiban daiji na no ha shiraikan da. Sōri no hatsugen ga shinjirarenakereba senkyo wa tatakaenai."
Later - Upon reflection, "astonished and disgusted" probably more closely cleaves to the dual meanings of akirete iru in this context.