Does Shinjiro Koizumi, son of a former leader, want to be Japan’s future leader?

Shinjiro Koizumi is young and has a politically famous father. Could he one day be prime minister of Japan?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 10:18pm

On Thursday, Japan’s ruling party votes to choose its leader for the next three years – a contest that will pit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe against former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Abe, who holds a commanding 20-point lead over his only challenger, is expected to secure a final term in the September 20 contest under current party rules.

A victory for 63 year-old Abe would boost the likelihood that he will become the country’s longest-serving prime minister and revise the country’s post-second world war constitution.

But it is the silence of 37-year-old Shinjiro Koizumi, the party’s chief deputy secretary general and son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, that is attracting the attention of Japan political watchers.

He may be young, but he comes from a political dynasty, the reasoning goes, and may be positioning

himself for a run in 2021.

“It’s true that he is very young and relatively inexperienced, so Koizumi is going to have to play his cards very carefully indeed,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of politics at Tokyo’s International Christian University.

“And he needs to bear in mind that those are very large political shoes that he is going to have to step into as, right now, the economy is doing very well under Abe, Japan has record low unemployment and he has been getting high marks for his foreign policy.”

If Koizumi does have designs on the leadership of the party, he may be walking something of a tightrope.

In 2012, he supported Ishiba in his previous unsuccessful attempt to unseat Abe and he has in recent months been critical of the two scandals that have dogged the prime minister, over allegations that he used his influence in connection with a land deal involving an education institution in Osaka and approval for an old friend’s veterinarian college.

Koizumi’s father, whose 1,979 days in office from April 2001 made him sixth longest serving PM in Japanese history, has openly criticised Abe on Japan’s nuclear energy policy.

The younger Koizumi, however, will be aware of Abe’s substantial lead going into Thursday’s election – as well as the fact that he will require the support and goodwill of the political machine that Abe has already constructed after six years in power.

Koizumi himself has deflected questions about who he is supporting, telling reporters at last Friday’s debate between the two nominees that he wanted to listen to their proposals before making his mind up.

“I will take on the task of revising the constitution, a postwar challenge that has never been achieved, in order to open a new era,” Abe said Friday in the televised debate with Ishiba.

Abe is proposing to add a clause to Article 9, which bans the use of force in settling international disputes. The clause would explicitly permit the existence of Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defence Force.

But Ishiba appeared less enthusiastic about amending the constitution.

“It doesn’t mean all is well as long as (the SDF) is written,” Ishiba said beside Abe, calling for a more fundamental approach.

For the public, the constitution is a lesser concern than issues such as pay, education and the high cost of child care, surveys show.

As for Koizumi, who was appointed in October 2013 to oversee the rebuilding of northeast Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, analysts believe he needs to build up a portfolio of experience if he wants to mount a serious challenge in 2021.

“He may be looking for a cabinet position if Abe wins, which is why he is so quiet at the moment,” said Nagy, who is also a fellow of Canada’s Asia-Pacific Foundation.

Yet there are some other obvious early contenders to take over from Abe, Nagy points out, not least Taro Kono, who has been foreign minister since August 2017, is a similar political blue blood and, at 55, has age and experience on his side.

The old joke in the Diet is that Japan’s prime ministership revolves so regularly that anyone with a seat will eventually get a shot at the top job; Koizumi may just need to bide his time a little longer.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Kyodo