Shinjiro Koizumi, touted as future Japan PM, points to nation's ills in politics as scandals swirl

Several polls have put former defence chief Shigeru Ishiba and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi (pictured) ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the respondents' preferred choice to lead Japan.
Several polls have put former defence chief Shigeru Ishiba and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi (pictured) ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the respondents' preferred choice to lead Japan.PHOTO: ST FILE

TOKYO - Some in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are "fed up" over a series of "unthinkable" developments in how the Cabinet has been dealing with swirling political scandals, said Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, seen as a future prime minister, on Wednesday (April 11).

"We are fed up with the current situation. That says it all," Mr Koizumi, who turns 37 on Saturday and is one of the LDP's youngest parliamentarians, told the annual New Economy Summit.

His remarks came as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet is battling a trinity of scandals that has sunk his approval ratings. They involve the forgery of official records as well as alleged cronyism and cover-ups within the Prime Minister's Office, Defence Ministry and Finance Ministry.

Just five months before an internal LDP leadership vote, Mr Abe is fast losing favour among the public as their preferred choice as leader. Several polls have put former defence chief Shigeru Ishiba and Mr Koizumi - son of former PM Junichiro Koizumi - ahead of Mr Abe.

As the LDP is the most dominant party, its chairman is de facto prime minister. Though the public does not have a direct say in the September decision, party cadres in rival factions may be swayed by these polls.

In a new revelation, Ehime Governor Tokihiro Nakamura cited a former aide to Mr Abe as saying at a 2015 meeting that a request by educator Kake Gakuen - run by Mr Abe's close friend Kotaro Kake - to open a new veterinary school in the prefecture was a "prime ministerial matter".

The aide, Mr Tadao Yanase, now says he "cannot recall to the best of my memory" if he has ever met officials from Ehime prefecture - a remark Mr Koizumi, the LDP chief deputy secretary-general, criticised as "unfathomable" on Wednesday.

The party's rising star has not shied away from speaking out against party brass, and has recently said in thinly-veiled comments that the LDP would not throw government bureaucrats under the bus for the wrongdoing of politicians.

He said on Wednesday that the mass media plays a pivotal role to keep politicians on their toes. His remarks came as the Cabinet is reportedly mulling over a revision to the Broadcasting Law to abolish a clause that mandates political fairness in reporting. Critics say this is another ploy by Mr Abe to stifle the opposition.

"There has to be respect for the media, and politicians must be nervous about what they are going to be asked about," Mr Koizumi told the forum.

As Japan faces pressing challenges such as a shrinking population, he added that the country sorely needs to "think like a start-up" to keep up with the times. The mindset that worked during the bubble economy years of the 1980s, he said, is no longer relevant as Japan loses ground to countries such as China.

This chronic inability to break with longstanding processes has not only stifled economic growth, but is also the cause of inefficient decision-making in politics, he said.

Pointing to how it takes nearly two hours in the first Parliament sitting after a general election to nominate a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, despite being a foregone conclusion, he said: "Within this time what would (Chinese President) Xi Jinping do? What will (Russian President) Vladimir Putin do?

"Maybe (US President) Donald Trump is going to tweet during this time," he quipped. "Our leaders are spending too much time for unproductive issues. And this is just one example."

He also urged businesses, unions and individuals to make dissenting voices heard, as he noted how a pervasive groupthink mentality has hindered progress in society.

"I want the external pressure," he said. "Are we going to be an innovative society if people fear repercussions for voicing their differences and instead choose to keep silent?"