Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi looked headed for victory yesterday ahead of weekend snap elections which he wants to be a referendum on reforming the world's second largest economy.
Three opinion polls gave the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a commanding lead in Sunday's vote in which Koizumi is fighting both against the opposition and rivals he purged from the party.
An upbeat Koizumi told reporters that he felt a "good response" from voters.
"We will beat out certain elements who have ravaged politics in an attempt to protect their own vested interests," Koizumi said. "This election has significant meaning."
Koizumi called the snap election after parliament rejected his signature plan to privatize the massive post office, which is effectively the world's largest financial institution.
Koizumi, the longest serving Japanese premier in two decades, has tapped a series of celebrity candidates to defeat LDP members who voted against the postal reforms and were purged from the ticket.
Some 42 percent of voters in single-seat constituencies plan to vote for the LDP, up from 37 percent in the previous survey conducted last week, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
Support for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the main opposition, remained unchanged at 20 percent.
Japan's best-selling daily said it was the highest rating for the LDP in five polls since Koizumi called a new election on Aug. 8, indicating that swing voters were siding with the ruling party.
"The LDP has built up a firm lead as the election campaign race entered a final phase," the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
If he wins a majority in the election, Koizumi is expected to call the lower house into session late this month to extend his premiership, Jiji Press said.
One key LDP dissenter who defeated the bills in the upper house, Yoshitada Konoike, was quoted as saying yesterday he would back the privatization if Koizumi wins.
Japan votes both for candidates in single-seat constituencies and for a party under the proportional representation system. In the proportional vote, the Yomiuri said the LDP gained two percentage points to 36 percent, while the DPJ lost 1.8 points to 18 percent.
The Yomiuri received poll responses from 2,090 eligible voters from Tuesday to Thursday.
According to another opinion poll conducted this week by the Mainichi Shimbun, 41 percent said they would vote for the LDP in the proportional race, up from 35 percent in its previous survey carried out last week.
Support for the DPJ stood at 26 percent, up barely from 24 percent, according to the survey covering 1,118 eligible voters.
The Nihon Keizai business daily said 52 percent of respondents would vote for the LDP, compared with 34 percent for the DPJ in single-seat districts.
Support for the LDP in the proportional system came to 49 percent against 30 percent for the DPJ, according to the survey conducted online Tuesday through Thursday this week.
Koizumi has threatened to resign if his coalition, which includes the Buddhist-oriented New Komeito, fails to win a majority.
He believes that breaking up the post office, which is used in Japan for savings and insurance and sits on three trillion US dollars in assets, would give new life to the world's second largest economy and clean up a political culture of patronage.
The main opposition says Koizumi is misdirected and should instead focus on reforming the pension system, which faces crisis when Japan's population begins to decline next year.
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