Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Koizumi defiant after electoral upset

FACE SLAP The prime minister's coalition has retained control of the upper house, but editorials said the results showed voters were upset over pension reform and Iraq

AFP , TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tells reporters in Tokyo yesterday that his party had a tough fight in Sunday's election.

PHOTO: AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed yesterday to push ahead with his reform agenda despite suffering a setback in elections seen as a verdict on unpopular policies on Iraq and pensions.

Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan almost uninterruptedly for nearly 50 years, won 49 of the 121 seats contested in Sunday's upper house election, a net loss of just one seat.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 50 seats, up from 38 before the election.

However, Koizumi's ruling coalition retained its majority in the upper house after its coalition partner, the New Komei party, won 11 seats. It also holds a majority in the more powerful lower chamber of parliament, which chooses the prime minister.

Newspaper editorials described the results as a slap down for an "arrogant" Koizumi by voters who were angry he had failed to explain the planned overhaul of the creaking pension system and the decision to keep troops in Iraq deployed since December.

But senior members of the ruling party, who have expressed frustration at Koizumi's high-handed management style, expressed support after last week suggesting a poor election result could see him deposed as premier.

Koizumi said he would not change course on key policy initiatives. He promised to keep up the structural reform of the economy and said Japan would maintain the contingent of troops doing reconstruction work in southern Iraq.

"I believe the public is calling for the ruling coalition to work with the opposition to push for our reform agenda," Koizumi told reporters, saying his reforms were responsible for the current economic recovery.

But analysts warned that he could be punished more severely next time unless he speeds up the reform process.

Koizumi could be forced to resign or dissolve the lower house in next summer and call a snap election, in which the Democrats could win power, said political analyst Minoru Morita.

"I think it will be difficult for him to last two more years," added Yoshiaki Kobayashi, political science professor at Keio University.

Koizumi acknowledged that a majority of Japanese opposed his decision to keep troops in Iraq as part of a multinational force, but he insisted it was the right thing to do.

"Japan needs to continue activities which will be regarded as valued work there," he said.

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