Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Japanese poll ushers in two-party system

TURNING POINT The PM will govern with a comfortable but considerably reduced majority, raising the prospect of a genuinely competitive opposition in the parliament

AFP , TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, right, president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and LDP Secretary-General Shinzo Abe place a rosette on the name of a victorious LDP candidate for the parliamentary elections at the party's headquarters in Tokyo on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed yesterday to press on with reforms after his coalition secured a win in a weekend vote which left him with a weakened majority and saw a stronger opposition emerge.

Analysts said the results showed the voters' desire for a two-party system to challenge the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and indicated that though Koizumi's reform agenda was safe for now, trouble lay ahead.

The incumbent three-party coalition led by Koizumi's LDP won 275 seats out of 480 in the lower house in Sunday's polls, compared to 287 in the last parliament, according to the final official result released late yesterday by the home affairs ministry's central election management committee.

The LDP won 237 seats outright, down from 247.

After the vote, three independent candidates joined its ranks, giving it 240 seats, which were further boosted to 244 when the smallest coalition partner, the New Conservative Party, announced late yesterday it would merge with the LDP.

The post-election horse trading means the LDP has now achieved its target of winning an absolute majority and in theory is not dependent on its remaining coalition partner. The two parties together now control 278 seats.

"We have managed to secure a stable majority," Koizumi said at a news conference. "I believe such support from a great many people has laid the foundations for our system to carry on reforms. I want to nurture the bud of reform into a big tree.

"Basically we will go on with the present system," he said, when asked about possible changes to the Cabinet line-up and his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) executive.

Koizumi reshuffled his Cabinet to give it a more youthful, reformist profile in September when he was re-elected as LDP president for a three-year term.

The three-party coalition, also including the Buddhist-backed centrist Komeito and the LDP splinter New Conservative Party, was set to re-elect Koizumi as premier when a new parliament votes on the chief executive post.

The special session of parliament would be convened on Nov. 19, according to reports. The Cabinet would be officially named shortly afterwards.

As widely predicted, the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), won 177 seats, up from 137 before the election, raising the prospect of a genuine two-party system after half a century of near-unbroken LDP rule.

"The political landscape is about to suddenly turn into a two-party system," the Yomiuri Shimbun said in its editorial, although it warned the DPJ had to resolve internal policy divisions before being ready to take power.

The DPJ "has some way to go before it reaches this level," it said.

Other newspaper headlines yesterday suggested Koizumi's reform process could face a rocky ride as the effects of his charm and charisma wane.

"Winds blow against his structural reforms," read one headline. "Koizumi magic fading," said another.

Koizumi took power two-and-a-half years ago advocating drastic economic reforms and scored an easy win in upper-house elections in July 2001.

The deeply conservative LDP old guard, which is opposed to his policies, have kept the maverick politician in power as a vote-collecting machine for elections while effectively reducing his reform drive to empty rhetoric.

Also See Story: Japan to keep slogging along: analysts

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