Thu, Sep 22, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Koizumi basks as parliament begins postal reform

MOMENTUM Fresh from a landslide victory, the Japanese leader's allies in parliament seized their public mandate and began work to break up the massive postal service

AFP , TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, center, shares a light moment with Liberal Democratic Party politicians during a special legislative session in Tokyo yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Japan's parliament yesterday started a session dedicated to breaking up the massive post office after the landslide election victory of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose popularity keeps on rising.

Parliament re-elected the reform-minded populist as premier along party lines as it began its 42-day special session.

"As we saw the election results, our house decided to appoint Mr. Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister," Speaker Yohei Kono told the lower house as Koizumi stood up and bowed several times to newly elected lawmakers.

Koizumi has said he will keep all of his current Cabinet members during the special session, but a reshuffle is expected after parliament finishes the session on Nov. 1.

Koizumi, 63, has been in office since April 2001, making him the longest-serving Japanese premier in two decades.

He can serve until the lower house is again dissolved, but he has repeatedly said he will step down next September when his term ends as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, rejecting calls to stay longer and seize on his mandate.

The parliamentary session follows a historic victory by Koizumi, who captured a more than two-thirds majority in the Sept. 11 election.

Koizumi called the early lower house election after the previous legislature defeated bills to privatize the post office, a cherished plan for which he has campaigned for decades.

Dissidents within the ruling party had worked to protect the current post office, which is effectively the world's biggest financial institution with US$3 trillion in savings and insurance assets.

The postal bills had been approved before the election by the lower house but were rejected in the upper house, where the government enjoys a slimmer margin and which cannot be dissolved for snap polls.

Koizumi's two-thirds majority means the lower house can now override the upper house, where some dissidents have said they have changed their mind and will back postal reform.

The premier cast postal privatization as a litmus test for reform during the election campaign, in which he enlisted celebrity candidates to defeat rivals purged from the ruling party.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which was crushed in the election, is set to file an alternative plan to privatize the post office.

The opposition party on Saturday elected as its new president Seiji Maehara, a 43-year-old security expert.

The snap election was a gamble. Many in Koizumi's party warned that voters cared little about his plan to privatize the post office, which the premier contends will revitalize the economy and clean up public finances.

But Koizumi is now basking in political success with massive public support for his determination.

In a survey published yesterday by the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Koizumi Cabinet's approval rating soared to 62.0 percent, up 14.3 points from last month's poll.

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