Tokyo's Leadership Race

With a public support rating of nearly 60%, Junichiro Koizumi ranks as one of Japan's most popular Prime Ministers in years. But that may not be enough to ensure that he hangs on to his post. Shizuka Kamei, a popular right-wing member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has emerged as a strong contender in the race for the post of LDP president. The victor, to be decided in a party poll on Sept. 20, not only takes charge of the LDP but also assumes the premiership.

What gives? Koizumi has never been as popular with the LDP as he is with Japanese voters. He rose to power two years ago on a wave of support for his reform agenda. But many LDP politicians have since grown disillusioned with his reforms, blaming them for the country's drawn-out slump. "Koizumi is responsible for this recession," Kamei, the challenger, declared in a TV interview on Sept. 1.

So far, Koizumi has introduced structural economic reforms, overhauled the health-care system, and slashed public works spending. In the process, he has alienated LDP interests such as the construction sector, which depends on public works projects for its lifeline. Unfortunately for Koizumi, a majority of the 1.4 million card-carrying LDP members are opposed to his brand of reforms. That might make them more receptive to Kamei, who promises to boost the national budget by up to 10% for three years with -- guess what? -- more construction-related public works. It's too early to call the election. Koizumi, however, will have to fight to keep his job.

By Irene M. Kunii in Tokyo

Edited by Rose Brady

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