"I'm the most capable politician"

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Independent parliamentary candidate Takafumi Horie is best known to Japanese as the brash young CEO of Internet services firm Livedoor and the man behind last year's controversial takeover attempt of Fuji Television. Now, the 32-year-old is gunning for the seat of former LDP heavyweight and Koizumi critic Shizuka Kamei in Hiroshima's sixth district. TIME's Wei Ting Jen caught up with Horie on the campaign trail:Q. What's it like to come from a big city like Tokyo to a little village in Fuchuu?A: It's much more natural for me here. I grew up near Yame City, a town in Fukuoka prefecture with a population of about 35,000, in an extremely rural village far away from anywhere else—much more rural than here—till I was 18. Not even in the village itself, but 30 minutes drive from the village center. I've only been in Tokyo for the last 15 years. It's very natural for me, not something I really notice. So I understand what it's like for people both in the cities and in the villages.Q. Locals around here have commented that Horie has nothing to do with Hiroshima. Your opponent, LDP candidate Shizuka Kamei, says you're just a curiosity for people to gawk at. What's your take?A: Everyone thinks that you have to run where you grew up. But there's no such law. The law is, as long as you're a Japanese citizen 25 or over, you can run for the lower house [of the Japanese Diet] anywhere. Given that law, to criticize me for having nothing to do with Hiroshima is a little too excessive. They did that during the Edo period, moving rulers around to places they're not in any way connected with. That's not too different from what I'm doing now. What's important is how you can contribute to national politics and your local constituents. I don't think that has much to do with whether you were born there or not. Anyway, it's something I can start learning from now, and I enjoy learning. I've probably already been to more places and know more about this place than people from the district itself—[I've been to] islands of 700 people that I'm sure many people living here know nothing about.Q. What exactly have you learnt? What's left the deepest impression on you?A: The history and economy of the cities, how people in different towns live. I've met the residents, talked to the local leaders, studied the demographics. In this very short time I think I've learned a lot. Everything's left a very deep impression on me.Q. Unlike your brash, tough-talking image during the take-over of Fuji TV, you convey a much softer image now.A: Elections are a kind of business. I have to present myself: 'I can do this and that for this area so please give me your vote'. People vote for the politicians who can best understand and contribute to their region or country. In a business you can choose your clients, and the message is targeted to them only. But politics is universal; no matter what age the audience, you have to send the same message to everyone. So naturally, it becomes a very soft message—nothing bad or difficult to understand—in simple language. If you're domineering to the opposition, that reflects very badly on you. So I control it from inside, from the heart. It becomes a very simple, soft message.Q. Do you think you've changed, or are going to change?A: On the inside, basically no. But I think I've learned and experienced a lot of new things and a lot of new ideas, and I've dealt with a lot of new people. It's given me new ideas, and led to new things. After shaking hands with so many new people of all ages and profiles, you become more outgoing and brave, and your ability to deal with things increases. Nobody has forced me to do this in the past. But it's really tiring to be nice to everyone. I can do it, but I haven't had the need to in the past.Q. Are you tired?A: Of course. But it gets less tiring. I've gained the ability to deal with everyone with a happy face.Q. The Japanese press said that you didn't want to join the LDP. Is it that you didn't want to join them, or you couldn't get them to accept you?A: Yes to both. I didn't want to join them, and they didn't want me. They wanted me to step down as Livedoor's CEO. I can't do that. They didn't ask that of me in the beginning. There are people in the LDP who are scared of [me]. The head of the party and those directly below didn't care, but talk of my joining the party sparked off a wave of alarm within the so-called opposition forces in the party; that's why they created such impossible clauses. Obviously it wasn't something I could stomach. I may have gotten their endorsement if I agreed to resign, but I think it's not worth it.Q. Is it really possible for you to remain as Livedoor CEO and become a Diet member?A: It can be done. Why are you asking this? Because no one has done so in the past? There's no law that says you can't be both a Diet member and a CEO. Of course it's different if you're talking about joining the cabinet or becoming the prime minister. You can't be both prime minister and CEO. At that point I don't know if I would choose CEO or prime minister. But as a Diet member there's no problem. Politicians say it's a problem because they're weak at numbers and don't think of anything else besides politics. They don't understand business; that's why they think it's impossible. Actually I think that there's a lot of benefit in being both in business and government.Q. During Livedoor's acquisition of Fuji Television, you were seen as an anti-establishment maverick. Why don't you join the opposition party, the DPJ, instead?A: Because the DPJ's leader [DPJ President Katsuya Okada] is inept. Mr. Okada is not a real leader. I've met and talked to him twice for several hours. He doesn't have what it takes to be a leader.Q. Do you think you're starting to become more aligned with the mainstream?A: I haven't changed. If it seems I'm becoming more mainstream, doesn't that mean instead that Japan is aligning itself with me? I haven't changed one bit.Q. Is that your dream for Japan?A: My dream? World peace and space travel.Q. Are you scared of going to Shobara [hometown of LDP opponent Shizuka Kamei]?A: I'm totally not scared of it. People ask me if I'm scared. Not at all.Q. Do you think that people in Shobara, which is widely known as a stronghold of conservatism, can accept a reformist like you? A: It's not the case that if you live in a village you're automatically earnest, loyal and compassionate. People just go with the flow and don't really have fixed beliefs. For example, why vote for Kamei? Because that's what [they're] accustomed to doing. The voting rate is very high in Shobara, 80% compared to the 60% national average. In rural villages the leaders make sure everyone goes to the voting station. Once you're there, you have to write something down, right? 'The DPJ's new, I don't really know anything about them,' you think, so you just write down the familiar name-Kamei-on the ballot. But everyone knows my name from TV, so just by shaking hands with them once won't I be able to get a lot of votes?Q: They say in Japan you need money, name recognition and a local electorate base to get elected. You have the first and the second. What are you planning to do about the third?A: We've been building it over the past 2 weeks, meeting lots of people, shaking hands, taking pictures, talking to them. The only difference is that Mr. Kamei has been doing it for years. But nobody wants to go to Kamei's meetings. They're boring. His talks are so boring. They're forced to come. But if you say Horie-mon [Horie's nickname] is coming, lots of people are interested. First of all, the children want to come, and they bring their parents and grandparents. [They hear,] 'There's someone from TV coming', and so they come. People come to my meetings because they want to. And they listen more carefully to what I have to say. 300 people just came to meet me in Mitsugi and to take pictures with me. I think everyone wants to come and meet me, there's a real motivation to come and hear me speak. And I have the confidence that I can say something meaningful to them. Among the three candidates standing here, at this current point, I think I'm the most capable politician. I'm the richest, the most capable, and the youngest. I've fulfilled the three criteria. So it's better for the region and for Japan that they choose me, no mistake about it. I expect them to listen and to be convinced. After they listen to what I have to say, I'm confident that they'll vote for me.Q. Your friends say you hate losing.A: Of course. I go in planning to win. I don't want to lose.