[EDITORIALS]Watching Mr. Koizumi

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[EDITORIALS]Watching Mr. Koizumi

A new Japanese cabinet led by Junichiro Koizumi, 59, a former health minister elected as the 20th president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will be launched today.

Mr. Koizumi, who enjoys rock music and insists on keeping a Beethoven haircut, has been nicknamed "an eccentric person," "a maverick," and "a lone wolf" in Japanese political circles, where factions and rank dominate. Commensurate with his image, he stirred up a revolt from beneath by calling for an end to behind-the-scenes factional politics and restructuring.

Disillusion with faction-based politics that have endured for nearly half a century and disappointment with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori ushered in a "revolution" that backed a new face as the new prime minister.

We will be interested in seeing whether Mr. Koizumi can indeed recover Japan's "lost 10 years" and open the way for structural reform by overcoming national and international constraints and factional interests.

The launching of the Koizumi cabinet comes in the middle of the history textbook issue. He has already made public his position that the demands made by neighboring countries, including Korea, for a revision of the textbooks are unjust and that Japan must not waver. He also says the constitution must be amended to acknowledge Japan's right of self-defense, with the possibility of its forces being dispatched to the Korean Peninsula.

He has even said that it is befitting for him as a prime minister to visit the Yasukuni Shrine where leading Japanese war criminals of World War II are buried.

He appears to be riding on the coattails of emerging right-wing sentiment in Japan. If he plans to fly on his right wing only, to attract votes, he will eventually become a political populist.

The politician that 21st century Japan really needs is not a populist instigator, but a reformist with a correct understanding of history and a touch for international balance. Only then can Japan free itself from the yoke of its history and the crisis of the last ten years. We will watch closely to see if Mr. Koizumi's cabinet is a hollow mirage or a harbinger of a new era.

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