Mon, Sep 12, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Exit polls show Koizumi headed for electoral triumph

THE 'WEIRDO' WINSThe unconventional Japanese prime minister looked set to come away from yesterday's vote with a mandate for change

AFP , TOKYO

It was the biggest gamble of his political career and it paid off handsomely. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi emerged from a snap election yesterday with a tighter grip on power and a party purged of rebels.

The "Koizumi theatre," as the prime minister's election campaign became known, stole the show with a crushing victory in lower house elections set to reshape the political landscape, according to exit polls.

For the first time in 15 years the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is poised to govern without the need for a coalition party.

The drama-filled election was portrayed as an epic clash between Japan's traditional system of political rule -- often besmirched by corruption -- and Koizumi's market-friendly policies.

Jjapan's face

Koizumi himself has held power since April 2001, longer than any Japanese prime minister in two decades, and become the face of Japan on the world stage.

The media-savvy 63-year-old, with his love of rock music and lion's mane of grey hair, put his job on the line after dissidents in his own party joined up with opposition lawmakers to block his plans to privatize the post office.

In the often drab world of Japanese politics, he broke the mold.

The media-savvy Koizumi receives courtesy calls from Hollywood actors and has even released a CD of personally chosen Elvis Presley songs, singing some of them for US President George W. Bush.

Postal reform is hardly the sexiest issue to fight an election on, but Koizumi managed to jazz up his campaign by enlisting a team of celebrity candidates dubbed "assassins" to stand against the LDP's postal rebels.

Koizumi argues that breaking up the post office, which is effectively the world's biggest financial institution, would stimulate the private sector, change the political culture and even boost Japan's diplomacy.

A maverick in the buttoned-down world of Japanese politics with his lack of ties and excess of hair, Koizumi has joked that he is a "weirdo" but voters again gave him their support.

"His approach of over-simplifying complex issues has won the hearts of the Japanese public," said Takashi Kato, professor of political philosophy at Seikei University.

Stubborn leader

Even when he was parliamentary vice minister of finance in 1979, Koizumi championed the privatization of the post office, whose 25,000 branches are used by many Japanese to deposit savings and insurance.

"Sometimes a political leader needs to be so stubborn that he would not move a little," said Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, one of the celebrity candidates expected to defeat an opponent of postal reform.

"He told voters, at the time of dissolving the lower house, his firm determination in a simple word that everyone can understand," she said.

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