Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's stunning triumph in parliamentary polls handed the leader a new mandate yesterday to harness his revitalized ruling party and turn promises into action for a range of sweeping economic reforms.
His landslide victory on Sunday boosted his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP's) standing in the lawmaking lower house by nearly a fifth and gave ruling lawmakers a two-thirds majority -- along with a coalition partner -- to override votes in a still-hostile upper house.
The LDP's final tally stood at 296 seats in the lower house, public broadcaster NHK reported, well above the 241 seats needed for a majority and the 249 seats it held when Koizumi dissolved the chamber last month. Optimism about the results sent Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei stock index surging 1.8 percent to 12,915.53 points in early trading.
Koizumi, who plans step down in September next year, quickly came under pressure to use his new strength to deliver -- not just on his cherished plans to privatize the nation's postal savings and insurance system but on issues ranging from pension reform to diplomatic relations.
"If his policies and the party's stature betray the people's expectations, there will someday be a backlash," the Asahi newspaper said in a front page analysis. "As soon as possible, he has to say what he will do after postal reform, and show concrete programs."
The LDP victory delayed any notion that Japan was entering an era of two-party politics following impressive recent gains by the opposition Democratic Party. The Democrats took a disheartening plunge on Sunday to 113 seats, from 175. Party leader Katsuya Okada announced early yesterday that he would step down as party head to take responsibility for the defeat.
The Democrats plan to elect a new president on Saturday, party officials said.
The LDP victory will test Koizumi's ability to transform the party's once-moribund, pork-barrel politics into a streamlined force for dynamic reform and small government.
"The ranks of the LDP's old guard have declined, and the party now has more young members, as well as more women. But its actions going forward will determine whether the party has truly changed," the Nihon Keizai said in an editorial yesterday.
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