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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 16:10 GMT
Analysis: Koizumi's honeymoon ends
Makiko Tanaka and Junichiro Koizumi at cabinet meeting
Tanaka (left) and Koizumi (right) were dynamite
By BBC Tokyo Correspondent Charles Scanlon

Less than a year ago they looked like the perfect couple.

Junichiro Koizumi, the quixotic lady's man, proposing reforms that challenged the vested interests of his own deeply conservative party. Makiko Tanaka, the former prime minister's daughter turned political outsider - she delighted voters with her furious attacks on a discredited political system.

Mr Koizumi was more dependent on the enormous popularity of Mrs Tanaka than he thought

On the campaign trail they were dynamite - the country's two most popular politicians promising to change Japan. Mr Koizumi owed much to Mrs Tanaka for his surprise victory as party leader and prime minister last April.

Keyrings of Junichiro Koizumi and Makiko Tanaka, June 2001
Happier times: Keyrings of the popular politicians
She claimed her reward. Japan's least diplomatic politician wanted to be foreign minister. But it was all to end in tears.

After nine months of bitter rows with her bureaucrats, Mrs Tanaka, broke down before the television cameras after being accused of lying by an influential conservative MP.

"Tears are a woman's greatest weapon", said a less than sympathetic prime minister. Four days later he summoned her to his office just before midnight and sacked her.


"He told me in his own words, it was the prime minister himself," said a startled Mrs Tanaka as she emerged from the building.

Mr Koizumi said the constant rows at the Foreign Ministry were disrupting government business. Most Japanese saw it as a victory for the hated old guard. Bureaucrats and factional bosses in the Liberal Democratic Party have been working to bring down Mrs Tanaka from the beginning.

In the end Japan's first female foreign minister was done down by bureaucrats in league with political faction leaders - the very nexus that is accused of bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

She was trying to root out corruption at the Foreign Ministry, which has been plagued by embezzlement scandals and the misuse of secret funds. Her officials obstructed her at every turn and eventually won the day.

The Japanese economy is deep in recession and unemployment is at a record high of 5.6%. The country is teetering on the brink of a full scale banking crisis. And yet for nine months Mr Koizumi's approval rating has held steady at 70% and above.

He has achieved little but he has kept alive the illusion of reform. He talks constantly about fundamental change - bringing transparency to back-room politics and revitalising a moribund economy.


Now the illusion of change is being shattered. Mr Koizumi was more dependent on the enormous popularity of Mrs Tanaka than he thought.

Yoriko Kawaguchi
Bureaucrats will be pleased with Ms Kawaguchi's appointment
She made a series of gaffes as foreign minister and failed to convince even some of her supporters that she had a grip on the nation's diplomacy.

But most agree she has been shabbily treated.

She was seen as an uncompromising champion of reform. She was fiery and combative and spoke her mind - she could hardly have been more out of place in the secretive hidebound Foreign Ministry.

In the end Japan's first female foreign minister was done down by bureaucrats in league with political faction leaders - the very nexus that is accused of bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr Koizumi may never recover from the blow. He has little support in his own party. His sole weapon was his sky-high popularity. As that falls, the factions will gradually consolidate their power.

They want more public spending, a return to pork barrel politics, and help for politically connected construction companies and other conglomerates.

Bureaucrats' backlash

"We had very serious doubts about Mr Koizumi from the beginning, about his true intentions for making real changes," says Shigenori Okazaki, political analyst at investment bank UBS Warburg in Tokyo.

"The structure of the government was the same, he came from the same faction [as his predecessor], the bureaucracy was the same.

Mr Koizumi sought to limit the damage by persuading the respected former chief of the UNHCR, Sadako Ogata, to become his foreign minister. She turned him down - a second major political setback in a week.

Instead he has turned to a former bureaucrat, the low profile Environment Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi.

The bureaucrats in the ministry can hardly believe their luck.

But Mr Koizumi's credibility as a reformer may never recover. And that will have damaging consequences for confidence in the Japanese economy.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"Mr Koizumi's popularity is suffering a huge set back"
Rate PM Koizumi's performance over the Tanaka affair




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See also:

01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Cabinet blow for Koizumi
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi steps into foreign ministry
29 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Axe falls on Japanese foreign minister
26 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial foreign minister
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
30 Jan 02 | Media reports
Japanese papers see trouble for PM
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