Japan's ruling party approved a package of bills yesterday to privatize the country's massive postal service, the top item in the government's reform agenda following a decisive victory in elections last week.
The bills, whose rejection by the upper house last month prompted Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to call snap elections, cleared a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) committee and were then approved by the LDP leadership, an official said.
Approval by the Cabinet is needed before the plan can move to a special session of parliament that opened this week. The LDP's coalition partner, the New Komeito, was also meeting on the bills yesterday.
Those steps are mere formalities, however, since the ruling coalition's landslide win in Sept. 11 lower house elections was seen as a firm mandate for the plan to split up Japan Post's delivery, insurance and savings deposit services and sell them off.
"We saw the results of the elections, and I think everyone in the LDP now sees the bills as something we can agree on," said Fumio Kyuma, chairman of the LDP General Council.
The LDP has released no timetable for consideration of the bills, but Kyodo News Agency said the Cabinet would vote on them next Tuesday. A vote in parliament is expected in October.
The main opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, expects to come up with its own counterproposal. But that proposal has been delayed by the disarray in the party following a painful defeat in the elections and a change in leadership.
The government's plan calls for privatization of the postal services by 2017, putting its ¥330 trillion (US$3 trillion) in holdings in private hands.
Opponents argue that the project threatens to reduce delivery services in the countryside, and puts citizens' hard-earned savings at risk. But Koizumi campaigned on the idea that privatization would improve efficiency, cut the bloated bureaucracy and jump-start the economy.