On the Tokyo talk circuits, he's being dismissed as a has-been.
In the countryside, languishing small businessmen call him a "god
of poverty," says a top Japanese political analyst.
But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the unconventional
politician who seized Japan's top office last April with a plan for
reform and the personality to implement it, is not giving up so
easily. Yesterday, the prime minister introduced an antideflation
package that aims to stop dwindling stock and consumer price levels
that threaten to dash hopes that Mr. Koizumi can rescue Japan's
sinking economy. The package hints at injecting public funds into
Despite the report's release, however, Japanese political
commentators remain more than skeptical that the prime minister, who
won fame for his charismatic talk and perm-waved tresses, will be
able to rescue his own premiership for more than just a few months.
"Koizumi is already a man of the past," says Minoru Morita, a
senior political commentator and leading opinion-maker on Japanese
Unable to make the sweeping changes he originally promised,
Koizumi is beset by a spiraling banking system that's plagued by
nonperforming loans. Critics say "structural reform" remains more of
a catchphrase than a reality. To make matters worse, new scandals
are shaking the public's faith in Koizumi's promise of clean
government. His decision to dismiss popular but controversial
foreign minister Makikio Tanaka - whose public appeal helped draw
support for Koizumi during his rise to power - has cut his
popularity ratings in half, with some polls giving him as little as
44 percent support.
The prime minister, once hailed as the best thing since take-out
sushi, is now being treated like last season's hemlines - no longer
all the rage and not long for this political world. Aides and party
loyalists say that polls are not the be-all and end-all, and that
Koizumi simply needs more time to make a difference. After all, as
Koizumi himself pointed out last week during President George Bush's
visit - one that gave the premier far less bounce than his
administration had hoped - the reforms of Ronald Reagan and
Britain's Margaret Thatcher took years to implement.
Those reforms also caused much social turmoil. And, some would
argue, they broke down parts of the safety net which Japan might not
be ready to give up.
"No matter how much cosmetics Koizumi may put on the face of
poverty, it will not be able to affect the time span of the
administration for more than just a few months," says Mr. Morita.
Politicians within his own ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP),
not to mention leading opposition parties such as the Democratic
Party of Japan, are already jockeying for Koizumi's seat. The
expectation among most commentators here is that he will not be able
to recover from the drop in ratings. Popular support was the key
base of his mandate because he was never widely supported within his
own conservative political party. …