Takafumi Horie, the punk rocker of Japanese business, on Friday became the latest “political assassin” sent in to kill off rebels opposed to postal privatisation in next month’s general election, likely to be the most fiercely contested in years.
Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, is sending out high-profile “assassins” — including Japan’s answer to Martha Stewart and a former television anchorwoman — to pick off 37 Liberal Democratic party rebels who voted against postal privatisation in the lower house last month.
This month, Mr Koizumi shook up Japanese politics by dissolving the powerful lower house and calling a snap election for September 11 after his postal privatisation bill was defeated in the upper chamber. Breaking with the broad-church tradition of the LDP, he refused to endorse any of the 37 anti-privatisation rebels, vowing instead to send in new LDP recruits — some of them household names — to hound them from office.
Although Mr Horie on Friday said he would run as an independent, not as an official LDP candidate, he said his campaign would centre on postal privatisation and that his views were closely aligned with those of Mr Koizumi’s revamped LDP.
Mr Horie, just 32, the president of Livedoor, an internet services company, shot to fame as one of Japan’s best-known businessmen this year when he mounted an audacious, ultimately unsuccessful, hostile takeover bid for an established broadcaster.
His tactics, as well as his disdain for formal business attire, helped earn him public sympathy as an anti-establishment figure, an image that the prime minister has also used to his advantage. Mr Horie, who may hope to smooth his business relations with government by entering the political world, met Mr Koizumi on Friday before announcing his decision.
The internet entrepreneur will run in Hiroshima’s 6th district against Shizuka Kamei, a former LDP policy chief who helped organise the rebellion against postal privatisation. Mr Kamei this week set up a rival party, the People’s New party, but has so far been able to recruit only four other candidates to join him.
Mr Koizumi’s aggressive electoral tactics have also wrong-footed the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which has struggled to get its message across since the election was called.
Katsuya Okada, DPJ leader, has said disarray within the governing party presents the opposition with the best chance to unseat the LDP in its half-century of almost unbroken rule.
By positioning himself as the reformist candidate, the prime minister has successfully painted the opposition with an anti-reformist brush, even though the DPJ is promising more root-and-branch changes than the LDP.
DPJ officials said the governing party’s longstanding links with Japan’s largely tame media ensured it favourable coverage, especially since Mr Koizumi was running such an unorthodox and colourful campaign.
The LDP on Friday unveiled its manifesto, promising to centre its push for smaller government on what it said was the watershed issue of postal privatisation. Mr Koizumi has vowed to resubmit the defeated postal bills to parliament should he be re-elected next month. If he does not win a clear mandate, he has promised to resign.