TV & Radio
The Times June 02, 2006
fashion ... er ... well, maybe not
Dress rehearsal on a catwalk reveals the politicians who want to be a model leader
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo
CALL it “vote couture”. The leading contenders to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as Japan’s Prime Minister effectively declared their candidacies yesterday by strutting their stuff on the catwalk.
Three ministers set aside the cares of office to model casual wear, the highlight of a campaign to persuade Japan’s salarymen to leave off their jackets and ties at work this summer.
Think Gordon Brown, Margaret Beckett and Jack Straw doing a twirl for the cameras to press their claim to succeed Tony Blair.
They could not have been more obvious in their intentions. The Minister of Finance, Chief Cabinet Secretary and Foreign Minister exploited the event as the first photo-opportunity of what promises to be a long summer of one-upmanship before the party leadership election in the autumn.
The race to succeed Japan’s maverick Prime Minister was always going to be quirky and heavily emphasise appearances — Mr Koizumi owes much of his international recognition to a mane-like shock of hair and a love of Elvis Presley. The campaign to succeed him as President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Prime Minister has not begun officially. But analysts agreed thatparticipation in the “Cool Asia” fashion parade by three of the four favourites should be thought of as the starting gun.
First on the catwalk was Taro Aso, the outspoken and nationalistic Foreign Minister, whose comments on China’s military, Taiwan’s history and the Yasukuni war shrine have caused outrage. He is regarded as a strong contender. The undone top button on his pink shirt suggested a man trying to soften his image, but the designer of his blazer, Noble House, gave the game away: this is a man intensely proud of his connection to the Imperial family.
He was followed by Sadakazu Tanigaki, the Finance Minister. He is regarded as an outsider in the contest and has been criticised as too “square” to lead. With the top button of his shirt and the jacket of his neutral beige suit tightly fastened, he did little to disabuse potential voters of that image.
Finally, Shinzo Abe, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, sauntered down the catwalk in a loose-fitting Louis Vuitton suit.
In both personality, political outlook and supposed charm with female voters, Mr Abe is seen by many as the natural successor to Mr Koizumi - an image he has attempted to play down to assert himself as his own man.
At 51, he has not held a Cabinet position for long, and his critics believe that although he may have the breeding — his grandfather and great-uncle were prime ministers — he does not have the experience.
The other figure thought to be in with an excellent chance was notable by his absence.
Yasuo Fukuda was perhaps using his non-appearance to deliver a message that he is too seasoned and well positioned to engage in such trivial showmanship.
If, as most analysts believe, the race does come down to a tussle between Mr Abe, Mr Aso, Mr Fukuda and Mr Tanigaki, the issues of fiscal policy, healthcare and education will likely be overshadowed by each candidate’s views on the controversial Yasukuni war shrine and whether a Japanese prime minister should pay official visits to it.
Politicians on the catwalk
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