The international press considered the potential impact of a less than rousing victory for the ruling party of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Sunday's parliamentary elections: The party's coalition managed to squeeze out a majority of seats in the lower house, but papers say unprecedented gains by an opposition party signal cracks in Koizumi's popularity and herald a fundamental shift away from Japan's longtime one-party rule. The Liberal Democratic Party-led three-party coalition won 275 seats in the 480-seat chamber, down from 287, while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan increased its seats by 40, to 177.
Sunday's was the first lower-house election since Koizumi came to power in April 2001. (See this "International Papers" column for initial reaction to the wild-haired henjin.) An editorial in the Age of Melbourne portrayed the election as a signal that the prime minister's plans will now face less opposition from conservative factions within the LDP: "Mr. Koizumi's efforts have met with little success because his prescription for reform, a hefty dose of deregulation and privatisation, has been undermined by the old men who run the many Liberal Democratic factions. Sunday's election ... was a body blow to that old guard and will strengthen Mr. Koizumi's hand." One analyst told the Financial Times, "The public was telling the LDP: 'You guys are going to have to push your reform more or we won't give you more seats.' Voters also told the opposition they wanted them to be more united. Now there's a more threatening alternative to the LDP and that should help Koizumi tremendously.' "
Meanwhile, dubbing the result "an outstanding performance" by the opposition party, Japan's liberal daily Mainichi Shimbun said the election outcome "has cast a shadow over … Koizumi's administration." A member of the LDP told the paper, "We can't easily ignore the opinions of a political party that occupies some 180 seats." The Financial Times declared, "The election marks the beginning of what most analysts consider a two party system after half a century of near-total domination by the Liberal Democratic Party."
One stark difference between Koizumi's camp and the opposition DPJ is in their stance on Iraq, and papers said the Democratic Party's gains will mean a tough fight for the government in its support of the U.S.-led coalition. Britain's Independent, under the headline, "Japanese Prime Minister re-elected but support for Iraq takes its toll," reported that the opposition has pledged to challenge Koizumi's decision to send troops to Iraq by year's end. According to Mainichi Shimbun, the Democratic Party leader said, "We'd like to step up our demands that the government abandon dispatching Self-Defense Force personnel to Iraq." The paper said the Koizumi government is close to adopting a plan on the nature and extent of SDF involvement in Iraq. "Even though the government is not required to refer the plan to the Diet for approval, the DPJ will certainly use its increased strength as a springboard to strongly demand that the matter be debated in the legislature."
America calls out the bounty hunters: Nigeria is crying foul over a provision tucked away in the U.S. bill for funding operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that sets out a $2 million reward for the capture of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has been living in exile in Nigeria since stepping down in August. A Nigerian official said the U.S. move is a slam against Nigerian sovereignty and amounts to "state-sponsored terrorism." The papers noted that the legislation offers $2 million for the capture of "an indictee of the Special Court for Sierra Leone" but claimed it is obvious the language points to Taylor, who has been indicted by a U.N. court for his role in backing a brutal rebel movement in Sierra Leone.
Nigeria's Guardian reported over the weekend that a presidential spokesman told the BBC, "Mr. Taylor's presence on Nigerian soil was the result of a plan agreed by African nations to resolve the conflict in Liberia." He said the U.S. move "violates not only international law but also all the norms of civilised behaviour." Johannesburg's Business Day reported Monday that the Nigerian government insisted it will not be bullied. "Nigeria as a sovereign nation will not succumb to any act of intimidation from any quarter," another presidential spokesperson said.
Since word of the bounty spread, a source close to Taylor told Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper that Nigerian authorities have beefed up security in the city of Calabar, where Taylor and scores of family members and associates now reside. The source called the U.S. move "an incitement to terrorism, because any bloke in Nigeria who is money-hungry could take up that offer. Imagine the bloodshed. We're prepared for the worst." The Vanguard reported that Jacques Klein, the U.N. envoy in Liberia, told reporters he approved of the U.S. move. "It was time for them to bring him to justice," he said. "The money is not the issue. It is symbolic ... it serves as a symbol for other people like Taylor."