Regardless of what you think of Koizumi or Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LPD), whose majority control over Japan’s Diet has been almost continuously unbroken since the 1950s, you have to admit that his strategy in last month’s snap election was a masterstroke: he focused public attention on a single issue--privatizing Japan’s postal system--and convinced voters of two things that would ordinarily seem mutually exclusive: (1) that the LDP was better capable of pulling off reform than the opposition and (2) that voters should reject anyone in the LDP he didn’t endorse.
In other words, he had the political genius to formulate this strategy and the charisma to convince the majority of his own party and the electorate.
Focusing on postal reform was perhaps a way to simplify the whole reform issue for voters while also co-opting the opposition party (the Democratic Party of Japan), which was (and still is) calling for much more sweeping reform.
Koizumi’s political genius is also evident in how he pulled off the second goal: purging his party of “renegades” by hand-picking prominent non-politicians to run against them. These candidates, called “assassins” by the press, prominently included a group of modern, assertive women dubbed--what else?--the lipstick ninja--a term sure to be used in future editions of the Japanese version of Trivia Pursuit or Jeopardy (“I’ll take ‘Early Aught Politics’ for ¥10,000, Kenji”).
At any rate, Koizumi’s victory is also a good example of a political party “cleaning house”—ridding itself of a small but stubborn element that was doing the party more harm than good. In other words, Koizumi’s victory shows that a political party must reform itself before it can go on to reform the country.
But perhaps the most important effect of Koizumi's success is the confidence it has inspired in Japan's political system. This is a double-edged sword: Japanese voters are likely to have more faith in their political system in getting things done--and less patience when some promised reform doesn't proceed the way politicians had initially promised.