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The humbling of Shinjiro Koizumi

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PYEONGTAEK, SOUTH KOREA – Shinjiro Koizumi has long been cast as a future prime minister in the media and the public eye. Since entering the Diet in 2009, the son of popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has used his sense of style, his oratory skills and his penchant for speaking out against his home Liberal Democratic Party’s policies to build a strong support base.

Thus when Koizumi received his first minister-level posting in last month’s Cabinet reshuffle, most observers focused on it as an opportunity for a rising star to shine on a bigger stage. Fewer saw it for what it really was: a power play by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Rather than looking at this posting as an opportunity, this is in fact a major political test for Koizumi, one that has already seen him humbled in front of domestic and international audiences alike. Abe placed Koizumi in a high risk, low reward Cabinet billet, basically daring him to choose between toeing the administration’s line to keep Cabinet support behind him or failing alone on a prominent stage. The decisions Koizumi makes while serving in this role will shape his long-term political trajectory in ways that most observers have yet to identify.

For years, Koizumi’s popularity and measured approach to his maverick behavior kept him untouchable in the LDP. The party needed his popularity, and as a junior member, Koizumi really was not in any position to affect policy. That changed in September 2018.

At the last party presidential election, many watched and waited to see whether Koizumi would back Abe or the lone opponent, Shigeru Ishiba. To preserve his reputation as an anti-establishment reformer, Koizumi needed to back Ishiba; however, he had to balance his decision in a way that prevented major blowback from the powerful Abe administration. Koizumi ended up disclosing that he was voting for Ishiba on the day of the presidential election. In that way, he issued a protest to Abe-led LDP politics that neither harmed election results nor tied Koizumi to Ishiba’s campaign.

Few in the Abe administration would have forgotten Koizumi’s vote to Ishiba, and because Koizumi’s rhetoric was growing stronger and his position in the party elevating, Abe made Koizumi an offer he couldn’t refuse: the minister of environment billet.

For Koizumi,........

© The Japan Times