Nakasone hits Koizumi populism, Yasukuni visits

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Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone warned the half-century-old Liberal Democratic Party against “pandering” to populism and urged it to hammer out far-sighted policies.

He also said Class-A war criminals should no longer be honored at Yasukuni Shrine, and believes prime ministers should refrain from visiting the Tokyo institution for the sake of Japan’s interests, like he did after drawing flak for one such visit.

Nakasone, who joined the LDP when it was formed through a merger of two major conservative parties on Nov. 15, 1955, was prime minister from November 1982 to October 1987 — the third-longest postwar term, when the Japanese National Railways was privatized.

“I think (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi has reached the starting line of a major historical turning point” in politics, the 87-year-old Nakasone said in an interview with The Japan Times ahead of the party’s celebration Tuesday of its 50th anniversary.

Nakasone, chairman of the nonprofit think tank Institute for International Policy Studies, credited Koizumi with pulling the LDP out of a state of flux characterized by frequent changes in the presidency, and hence the prime ministership, and the party’s 11-month absence from power in the early 1990s.

But he said the party has yet to build a policymaking regime that can put the brakes on populism and bring more depth to politics.

Nakasone traced the rise in populism to the 1994 introduction of the single-seat electoral system.

When the multiseat system was in force, a group mentality and active debate prevailed within the LDP, with factions wielding great influence in fielding candidates and holding gatherings at which rival candidates gave campaign speeches, he said.

“But the introduction of the single-seat electoral system changed that group mentality to individualism,” while the vote-drawing power of traditional support groups like agricultural cooperatives and construction industry groups went into decline, he said.

Nakasone said the single-seat system has given great power to the party leaders, and in turn placed greater importance on appearances instead of policies to take advantage of the growing influence of TV. Koizumi has gained the most from this change, he added.

A prime example was the Sept. 11 general election, in which Koizumi used television to let the people watch him battle foes in the LDP opposed to his postal privatization drive, paving the way for the LDP, purged of these foes, to score a landslide victory, Nakasone said.

“However, now that power has come to be concentrated on the prime minister and (the LDP) secretary general, lawmakers are losing their independence and are having to bow before the Prime Minister’s Official Residence,” he said. “This is extremely dangerous.”

Koizumi has vowed to step down as LDP chief next September, and Nakasone hopes his successor tries to steer the party away from populism.

On reforming the Constitution, the LDP’s golden anniversary centerpiece, Nakasone urged the party to come up with a better plan, calling the document endorsed Tuesday “shoddy and imprudent.”

“The biggest problem is the preamble,” he pointed out. “That must be revised by a second draft.”

Nakasone has ardently advocated a charter that pays respect to Japan’s history, culture and tradition, noting the current Constitution, which was mainly penned by the Occupation authorities, does not. He headed the LDP panel tasked with penning the preamble for a new supreme code and drafted it with the common consent of the panel.

But descriptions of Japan’s history, culture and geographical features were deleted by Koizumi and members of the party’s constitutional committee secretariat, he said.

He believes the preamble should express the image of the nation as a whole, including the continuity of its history, culture and tradition as well as the people, and thinks the original version will be restored in a second draft.

He observed that the main purpose of those who modified the draft was also to weaken the war-renouncing Article 9 to clearly stipulate that Japan can possess a military, and that it is so-named, for defense, and to revise Article 96 to ease restrictions on constitutional amendments, Nakasone said.

“(Revising Article 9) would make Japan a ‘normal country’ that can share responsibilities and cooperate with the world,” he said, noting past administrations only managed to reinterpret the Constitution to expand the role played by the de facto military, the Self-Defense Forces.

“But (this method) has reached its limit and distorted the spirit of the Constitution. That’s why it’s time for an amendment.”

He said the time is ripe because the global trend toward nationalism and independence since the end of the Cold War has built momentum toward amending the Constitution — a move long considered taboo.

Nakasone, who angered other parts of Asia when he visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s 2.46 million war dead, said, however, he thinks Koizumi had better take some time off from visiting the Shinto shrine in order to end the nation’s diplomatic tensions in Asia.

“The Yasukuni issue is one reason” that Japan has no reciprocal visit of leaders with China and South Korea, which protest the visits because they see them as the national leader worshipping those responsible for Japan’s wartime conduct, Nakasone said.

“China is doing what it wants and getting way ahead (of Japan) in Asia diplomacy” in the meantime, he said.

Nakasone, who visited Yasukuni on Aug. 15, 1985, as prime minister, said he made no further visits out of a desire to protect Japan’s interests and preserve diplomatic relations.

He called the support some conservative lawmakers have shown for Koizumi’s visits nothing but nationalism on a personal level, and urged the prime minister to consider Japan’s interests on a larger scale.

“I don’t regard those who are called war criminals as ‘criminals’ but ‘people responsible for the war.’

“The important thing is to pass down the nation’s spiritual tradition” embodied in Yasukuni, he said. “Since the Meiji Era, many soldiers died shouting ‘Long live the Emperor!’ But the Emperor cannot visit (the shrine because the Class-A war criminals are enshrined there), so I insist (their names) be removed to a separate place.”