- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

TOKYO — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi easily won re-election as head of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) yesterday and called it a mandate for deregulation, privatization and to tighten spending.

The silver-haired leader, wildly popular with the public, won handily over his three challengers. Shizuka Kamei, a senior party executive, was a distant second.

“This election comes at a time of great change for the party,” Mr. Koizumi said. “This was an election to prove this party is the party of the people, and of promoting reforms.”

Because Mr. Koizumi has been prime minister for 2 years, the victory also cements his role as one of the longest-serving Japanese leaders during the past 25 years. During that time, Japan has had 14 prime ministers.

The party president usually serves concurrently as prime minister because of the LDP’s dominant role in Parliament.

Underscoring his solid support, Mr. Koizumi won 399 of the 657 party votes, 260 more than his closest rival. The election includes 357 ballots cast by the LDP’s members of Parliament and 300 calculated to reflect the votes of the party’s 1.4 million rank-and-file members.

Analysts said the results should embolden Mr. Koizumi to push ahead with his revitalization plans more vigorously.

“Lawmakers realize the public backs him, so they should, too,” said Harumi Arima, a political analyst and former LDP political aide.

At a news conference to kick off his new three-year term, Mr. Koizumi said he would appoint new LDP party officers today and announce a new Cabinet tomorrow.

Mr. Koizumi’s popularity with the public has drawn many LDP lawmakers to his camp, particularly as the party prepares for parliamentary elections in the coming months. Mr. Koizumi has the power to call elections for Parliament and reportedly is considering doing so in early November.

The Liberal Democratic Party has controlled the reins of government in Japan since World War II, except for a two-year period in the early 1990s.

Despite its name, the party reflects the conservative mainstream and is closely allied with big business and the agricultural sector.

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