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Japan's Political Scandals Damage Koizumi Support - 2002-05-07


A series of political scandals have damaged the public standing of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Japan's long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost another senior lawmaker last week after allegations that his secretary had taken bribes.

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is close to its lowest level since he took office a year ago, after several members of his party became embroiled in financial scandals.

A recent poll by Japan's Kyodo news agency shows that Mr. Koizumi's approval rating has dropped to 43 percent, down 1.5 percentage points from March. The survey shows that more 80 percent of the respondents say the Koizumi government will last one year or less.

Many people are disappointed by the government's inability to revive the economy. Political analysts, however, say a series of scandals involving Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians, is doing much of the damage to Mr. Koizumi.

"Every time another corruption scandal happens, and they happen quite regularly, it hurts the LDP," said Stephen Reed, a professor of politics at Chuo University in Tokyo. "It does not necessarily hurt the prospect for reform because it is one of those things Mr. Koizumi is supposed to be changing. But it hurts the LDP in general."

Three scandals have hit the party since January. LDP stalwart Muneo Suzuki was forced to leave the party over allegations that he meddled in the awarding of government aid projects.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Koichi Kato, a former LDP secretary-general, quit the party and Parliament over allegations he misused public funds and after a former aide was arrested on tax evasion charges. Mr. Kato was a long-time ally of the prime minister.

Mr. Kato denies any involvement in the scandals but says he stepped down to take responsibility.

Most recently, Yutaka Inoue, a former speaker of the Upper House, resigned from Parliament last week to take responsibility for a former aide's alleged involvement in a bribery scandal.

Mr. Inoue says he had no role in the matter but he resigned because he failed to oversee his aide's actions.

Zenichiro Tanaka, a professor of politics at Tokyo Kogyo University, says that Mr. Koizumi's apparent failure to curb excesses by members of his party could have long-term consequences. He says that people in Japan generally have given up hope in politicians. He adds that the LDP's support is weakening and if more scandals arise, he thinks public approval will drop further.

Voters have already given the LDP a taste of their disgust. They handed the party an unexpected defeat in a by-election last month in Niigata prefecture, a former LDP stronghold. The party also lost a governor's race in southern Japan. The LDP has long dominated Japanese politics and for most of the past 50 years, it has held the prime minister's post.

One woman in Tokyo says she is strongly disappointed with Japan's tainted political system. She says there are no more clean politicians. Another woman says that all scandals should be exposed. She hopes that doing so will help reform politicians' consciences.

Mr. Koizumi rose to power with a pledge to develop a new style of politics after years in which politicians, bureaucrats and business owners quietly decided government policy.

He has made good on his promise to cut spending on public works, widely considered a source of graft. But voters are increasingly unsure of Mr. Koizumi's pledge to free the LDP of the vested interests that have contributed to countless scandals.

The opposition has not come out of the recent scandals significantly better than the LDP. A lawmaker from the opposition Socialist Party, Kiyomi Tsujimoto, resigned last month after admitting she misused public funds intended for an aide's salary.

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