Japanese leader sees win as mandate for reform

His party can now govern without forming coalition

September 12, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TOKYO - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi scored a crushing victory yesterday in legislative elections, giving powerful momentum to his campaign to slim down his nation's bureaucracy.

Supporters of Koizumi, a strong U.S. ally, won at least 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of the Diet, or parliament, according to a vote count tallied early today by the state television network.

The huge victory, labeled by one opposition politician as "Typhoon Koizumi," gave the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party enough seats in the lower house to govern without a coalition partner for the first time in 15 years.

"The result was more than I expected," Koizumi said. "The Japanese people said they wanted to keep reform, not stop reform."

The victory followed a purge of 37 anti-reform lawmakers in the ruling party and allowed Koizumi to re-engineer the party as a force for change despite five decades of nearly uninterrupted rule. The election marked a staggering setback to the largest opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, which garnered 113 seats.

Koizumi will forge ahead with a plan to privatize the huge postal system, which also sells insurance and handles savings accounts, controlling assets of more than $3 trillion.

Koizumi called the election after a plan to privatize the postal system was defeated Aug. 8 in the upper house of the Diet.

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