Asiaweek [30 November 2001] "Mister Reform?"

November 30, 2001 12:00 AM

Asiaweek [30 November 2001]
"Mister Reform?"
TARO KONO, 38, and son of former foreign minister Yohei Kono, enjoys a reputation as one of Japan's most outspoken legislators ム not hard to do in the land of the bland politician. CRYSTYL MO cornered him on a range of issues

You're the fourth generation of politicians in your family. How can you call yourself a reformer? Your roots are so "old line."
It's not my fault my family name carries weight. When I first ran for parliament I didn't use the old political machinery. I set up my own group. I campaigned on the theme that we need to reform Japanese politics. I told voters not to vote for me if they were unsure about me. In the second election my votes increased by almost 50%, so I think people are happy with my performance.

What do you think the single best political change might be in Japan?
We don't have a parliamentary democracy in Japan. MPs need to be forced to debate in front of parliament, not behind closed doors. Then the public can vote according to policy. We'll be open, no longer faceless and nameless.

If you're so radical, why have you stayed in the Liberal Democratic Party? Why not break away?
Why do we have to leave the party? It's the conservative factions that should go.

That could mean the end of the LDP . . .
Probably. Unfortunately there's no alternative right now. The Socialists and Communists are way to the left and unrealistic. Komeito is a religious party: It won't grow and it won't be an alternative. The Conservatives will disappear soon, they're very small. The Liberals? I don't think anyone trusts them. As for the Democrats, they're just a group of people who got together for the sake of convenience. They're too disparate.

So what would work?
A grand coalition of all the parties, without the Socialists and Communists, to reform the constitution. Then groups could split into people who are more market-oriented and those who place a higher value on the social safety net and so forth.

How about Japan's new military role?
We need to clarify it. We should be able to participate in the peacekeeping of this planet. We have a limit of 1% of GDP spending on the military, but 1% of a huge GDP is still a lot. We could make good use of it if we change the constitution to allow Japan to participate in peacekeeping missions according to U.N. regulations. It would be far better to actually change the constitution than to just continue to change the interpretation of military rules randomly which is what's happening now.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is popular because he's eccentric. What's your wrinkle that works with the voters?
Me? I'm just being a normal Japanese. Well, actually, politicians in Japan are really different from normal people. They are rude. They hold a sort of pseudo loyalty to their faction. They're not able to say what they really want to say. Do you always say what you want to say? I don't think so. When I do, I get in too much trouble.