Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hit the campaign trail running yesterday, making a passionate re-election plea for voters to rally behind his plan to break up Japan's massive post office.
Koizumi opened the official campaigning period before the Sept. 11 vote by whipping up hundreds of supporters in front of the Kichijoji train station in western Tokyo, a stronghold of a senior opposition leader.
"Why do you have to be state-employed civil servants to provide postal services? I want to ask people about this," Koizumi, clad in a pink shirt, shouted over his microphone from atop a campaign van.
Koizumi, who is ahead in polls, was backing one of the handpicked candidates he is deploying to defeat key rivals.
"How could I refuse when the supreme leader of national politics spends a full 30 minutes pleading just with me?" said candidate Masatada Tsuchiya, who resigned as a local mayor to take on former opposition chief Naoto Kan.
But the crowd enduring the summer heat was clearly waiting for the premier himself and erupted with excitement when Koizumi hopped on top of the van. Many snapped photos with their mobile phones.
In what Japanese media have dubbed "Koizumi theater," the premier has choreographed drama by fielding surprise candidates and punishing members of his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who shot down his postal reform plan.
A woman gazed at the premier while wearing a top hat written on it: "I love you, Mr. Koizumi!"
Koizumi's speech, with his voice already hoarse, was partly drowned out as police kept yelling "Keep going" or "Please step back" through loudspeakers.
"As he is so popular, I always wanted to get a direct look at Mr. Koizumi," said Hiroko Hayashi, a 56-year-old housewife.
A newspaper reported yesterday that Koizumi's party has nearly twice the support of the main opposition. A telephone interview of 3,600 voters by the Tokyo Shimbun showed 43 percent planned to vote for the LDP, dwarfing the 23 percent who said they would vote for the main opposition Democratic Party in single-seat constituencies. Koizumi called the early election after parliament rejected his signature reform of breaking up the post office, which sits on three trillion dollars of assets, making it essentially the world's biggest bank.
The premier is so passionate about the plan that one of his close aides, Taku Yamasaki, has likened backers of the post office to terrorists and said Sept. 11 was intentionally chosen as the election date because it was the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the US. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has accused Koizumi of obsession and says the key election issue should be how to reform the pension system, as Japan's population is set to begin to decline next year.
In related news, a woman who tried to drive through barriers in front of the Japanese prime minister's office yesterday attempted suicide by slitting her throat after she was stopped by police.
The woman, who also stabbed herself in the wrist and stomach with what appeared to be a fruit knife, was taken to the hospital and in serious condition. Her car was stopped just in front of a metal gate blocking entrance to the compound where the prime minister's office and residence are located. Flyers found in her car opposed Koizumi's government.