Japanese Deliver Verdict on Koizumi’s Troop Decision

TOKYO (IPS) – Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s humiliating blow in Sunday’s House of Councilors election could have a fallout effect on his controversial decision to keep troops in Iraq, say analysts.

"The election results reflected people’s anger. Koizumi had too easily followed the United States in drawing up policies on Iraq’s reconstruction," Toshihiro Shimizu, the secretary-general of the Japan International Volunteer Center told IPS.

Shimizu, whose group delivers medical aid to Iraq, was scathing of the Koizumi government.

"The decision to dispatch Japanese troops to Iraq should have been done after proper research into what Iraqis actually need and after proper discussion. But, no, those things were never done," he said.

Prof. Takeru Ohe, who teaches at Tokyo’s Waseda University also agreed with Shimizu.

"People were disappointed that they were not consulted over Iraq as the deployment of the SDF to Iraq could violate our pacifist stance in the constitution," he told IPS.

Japan’s constitution drafted with the United States after World War II, forbids Japanese troops from engaging in the act of combat unless the nation is under attack.

At present Japan has about 600 Self Defense Forces or SDF based near the town of Samawah in southern Iraq – the nation’s first troop deployment under its own flag instead of the United Nations.

Last month, Koizumi said Japanese troops would join a United Nations-led multinational force in Iraq as long as their role is limited to humanitarian missions. He made the commitment at the end of the annual two-day gathering of leaders from the Group of Eight countries in the U.S. state of Georgia.

But on Sunday, the Japanese people delivered their verdict against Koizumi’s decision.

At the House of Councilors election, Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was outperformed by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ.

For the first time since 1989, DPJ overtook the LDP in an election – as official results on Monday indicated.

Of the 121 seats contested, the LDP won 49 against the 50 captured by the DPJ – the third lowest score for the LDP in an Upper House election since the party was founded in 1955.

While the LDP fell shy of its target of winning 51 seats, the party’s alliance with the New Komeito saw it retain a solid majority in the 242-seat Upper House.

"If anything, Sunday’s House of Councilors election will probably be remembered for the clarity of the issues voters were being called on to judge," wrote the Japan Times newspaper.

The outcome of Sunday’s elections also highlights the growing presence of the opposition DPJ.

"The public’s willingness to support the yet untested DPJ is interesting," David Satterwhite of the Fulbright Commission, Japan, told IPS.

"It’s a gradual move by Japan towards a two-party system and that’s healthy," he said.

Yuri Okina, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, told reporters before Sunday’s election that the emergence of a second party "able to vie for power would force the LDP to be more responsive."

The Tokyo-based research group is part of the Sumitomo Financial Group Inc.

For many people interviewed by IPS, the election seemed to be an opportunity to show their dissatisfaction with the LDP-led government.

"I am very happy with the results. I voted for the DPJ because there is no future with the LDP," said Tomo Mizukoshi, sales director at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Masumi Horiuchi, a former dental nurse said: "One has to stop that party (LDP). It has always been one party."

The LDP’s setback might also force Koizumi to reconsider his position in dealing with pending issues related to North Korea.

Moves involving North Korea, including his first visit to Pyongyang in September 2002 for summit talks with its leader, Kim Jong Il, had helped boost Koizumi’s public support rates.

The government arranged a family reunion in Jakarta between repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga and her family living in North Korea just two days before Sunday’s election, but the tactic apparently did not work this time.

An exit poll jointly conducted Sunday by media companies showed the latest support rate for the cabinet was only 35 percent after the reunion took place, while the disapproval rate was 41 percent.

Japanese stocks rose and the yen strengthened on Monday because Sunday’s LDP setback loss was less some than investors had expected.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average closed 1.4 percent higher at 11,582.28 in Tokyo. The yen traded at 107.81 to the dollar at 6:19 p.m., Japan time, from 108.19 in late New York trading on Friday. It traded as high as 107.57, its strongest since Jun. 28.

Sunday’s vote may have been Koizumi’s last national elections. The next elections for half the upper house and for the 480-seat lower house are not due until 2007, after Koizumi’s term as party head ends.

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