Among the people who replied to the question asking them to evaluate Masuzoe Yoichi, minister of health and welfare, 72% replied favorably, making him the highest rated among eleven Diet members included in the poll. By comparison, Mr. Koizumi, now back in the public spotlight, received a 57% favorable rating, Aso Taro received a 52.9% favorable rating, Hatoyama Kunio received a 16.7% favorable rating (and a 68.8% unfavorable rating), Ishiba Shigeru received a 43.1% favorable rating (and a 40.8% unfavorable rating), and Ozawa Ichiro received a 26.5% favorable rating (and a 58.2% unfavorable rating).
In other words, Mr. Masuzoe may be the only member of the Fukuda cabinet to emerge from this government with his public standing enhanced.
I can’t say that I’m surprised by this finding, but it does serve as an indictment of Mr. Fukuda. At the start of his cabinet, there were hopes that Mr. Fukuda’s agenda would be consistent with Mr. Masuzoe’s “humane reformism” — particularly concerning the Japanese bureaucracy. In the 100+ days since Mr. Fukuda took office, however, he has backpedaled, backing away from commitments to, well, just about any course of action.
The support for Mr. Masuzoe also suggests something about how the Japanese public thinks about reform. I suspect that Mr. Masuzoe’s persistent criticism of the bureaucracy and its privileges wins him points. Beyond that, I think Mr. Masuzoe’s kinder, gentler reformism, focused on improving the health care and welfare systems, is more appealing to the general public than Mr. Koizumi’s strident reformism (just look at Mr. Koizumi’s language: “destroy,” “opposition forces,” etc.) He offers a way forward for the LDP — a way forward that the LDP is incapable of embracing.