Speaking at a meeting of the Diet members’ group for the promotion of postal privatization, an LDP study group featuring a number of leading reformists, including Nakagawa Hidenao, Shiozaki Yasuhisa, Takebe Tsutomu, and Ishihara Nobuteru, Mr. Koizumi commented on Aso Taro’s recent remarks about “revising” postal privatization.
“More than being angry,” he said with a slight smile on his face, “I just have to laugh. I am just totally fed up.” (I’m deferring to MTC on the translation.) Asahi describes Mr. Koizumi’s criticism as scathing, but watching the video Mr. Koizumi seems more dismissive than angry. He dismissed Mr. Aso as petty and shiftless, unworthy for the role of prime minister. He went on to the prime minister for not listening to dissenting opinions and for have a serious lack of common sense, which have eroded public trust in his leadership. He further suggested that the prime minister should not use the supermajority to pass the bills enabling the second supplementary budget’s direct payment plan, which the press is reporting as a suggestion by Mr. Koizumi to his followers to vote against the bill should it come before the lower house a second time.
But more than that, in his laugh Mr. Koizumi effectively waved off the two-and-a-half years of LDP rule since he left office: the readmission of the postal rebels, the backsliding on structural reform, the resurgence of the LDP’s old guard and the bureaucracy, the mishandling of the pensions fiasco, the near-total failure to move an agenda despite the supermajority, and now Mr. Aso’s turning on Mr. Koizumi’s legacy in order to save himself. Without having to say any of that, Mr. Koizumi declared the current government and the LDP bankrupt and unworthy of governing, a declaration amplified by its timing, coming in the midst of uncertainty regarding the passage of the budget and the bills related to the second stimulus package and the government’s dismal approval ratings.
Mr. Aso has opted to say nothing in response to Mr. Koizumi, saying that he didn’t hear the speech and so won’t comment. Yomiuri quoted someone in his retinue dismissing Mr. Koizumi’s remarks as “no big deal” because the former prime minister had already decided to retire.
It’s possible that Mr. Koizumi’s remarks will have no impact. But it’s also possible that Mr. Koizumi has cut the thread keeping the reformists loyal.
Jun Okumura has hypothesized that discontented LDP members will not defect but will do everything in their power to distance themselves from Mr. Aso (his post includes a handy list of behaviors to look for). The question now is whether Mr. Koizumi’s intervention disproves Jun’s hypothesis, whether Mr. Koizumi’s “anti-Aso declaration” will serve to rouse the reformists to vote against the government, which would presumably topple the government and set in motion an alignment of some sort during the run up to a general election. I think Jun’s logic is sound, but it will be tested by this latest twist in the LDP’s collapse.
Perhaps the clearest sign that Mr. Aso is in trouble is that Mori Yoshiro, the self-appointed guardian of the past three prime ministers, did not dismiss Mr. Koizumi’s remarks outright. “Mr. Koizumi,” he said, “ought to watch his words, but the prime minister also talks too much.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mr. Aso.