New Prime Minister Enjoys Record Popularity
August 23, 2001
The popularity of reformist Prime Minister Jun'ichiro Koizumi is like a whirlwind blowing all across Japan. Although nearly four months have passed since the formation of his cabinet, Koizumi's popularity remains high, topping 80% support in public opinion surveys. Almost everything Koizumi does or says is reported by television's news programs and other shows covering current events.
Koizumi-related posters and novelty goods have been released and are selling like hot cakes. In addition, over 2 million people registered to receive the prime minister's online mail magazine soon after its launch. All of this indicates that Koizumi has become a social phenomenon and that politics has entered people's living rooms.
A Reformer Who Aimed for the Top
Koizumi, who is 59, is a third-generation Diet member who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. He has since been reelected 10 times, marking him as a veteran lawmaker within the Liberal Democratic Party.
Twice before Koizumi had run for LDP president, a post which virtually guarantees the prime ministership, given the fact that the LDP is the largest party in the ruling coalition. When he ran for the third time this April, he promised reforms, with such slogans as "Change the LDP," "Structural reform leaving no sacred areas exempt," and "Without structural reform there can be no economic recovery."
Koizumi won a landslide in the party primary and the ensuing election among mainly LDP Diet members, becoming party president and prime minister.
Behind the Koizumi Phenomenon
Koizumi fully demonstrated his style when he chose his cabinet, the first job for any new prime minister. There are five women in the cabinet. Koizumi also included three people from the private sector.
The attitude of this reform-oriented prime minister has been embraced by the public. All the major media organizations conducted public opinion polls soon after the formation of the cabinet in late April. Public support for Koizumi exceeded 80% in almost all of them and reached 91.3%, an astonishing number, in one survey conducted by a television station in mid-May. Although over three months have passed, the figures remain over 70%.
In May Koizumi attended the final day of the May Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo and watched as yokozuna (grand champion) Takanohana managed a dramatic victory despite being hobbled by a debilitating knee injury he suffered the day before. Upon presenting the Prime Minister's Cup to Takanohana, Koizumi commended him in a strong voice, saying, "You withstood the pain and fought on. I was deeply moved," to which the crowd responded with wild applause.
In June an election was held for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, which was seen as a harbinger for the coming House of Councillors election. The LDP won 53 seats, up from its previous total of 48.
Focusing on the actions of Koizumi, television news programs and wide shows are reporting on the happenings in the Diet in detail everyday. Broadcasts of Diet proceedings on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) have marked their highest ratings ever. This is proof that the Koizumi phenomenon has made more people take an interest in politics.
Koizumi Passes First Test
The nineteenth election for the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Japanese Diet, was held on July 29 and was the first test of the Koizumi administration before voters nationwide. Koizumi's popularity led the LDP to a huge victory, as it increased its number of seats in both prefectural electoral districts and the nationwide proportional-representation constituency. The ruling coalition, which includes the LDP, New Komeito, and the New Conservative Party, won far more than enough seats to maintain their majority in the upper house. Koizumi will now be called on to implement his plan for "leaving no sacred areas exempt from reforms in Japan's social and economic structures."