- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

TOKYO — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s triumph in parliamentary elections handed the leader a new mandate yesterday to harness his revitalized ruling party and turn promises into action for a range of sweeping economic reforms.

His landslide victory Sunday boosted his Liberal Democratic Party’s standing in the lawmaking lower house by nearly 20 percent and gave ruling lawmakers a two-thirds majority — along with a coalition partner — to override votes in a still-hostile upper house.

The LDP’s final tally stood at 296 seats in the lower house, public broadcaster NHK reported, well above the 241 seats needed for a majority and the 249 seats it held when Mr. Koizumi dissolved the chamber last month. Optimism about the results boosted Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei stock index, which closed up 1.6 percent from Friday.

Mr. Koizumi — a close ally of President Bush — quickly came under pressure to use his new strength to deliver — not just on his cherished plans to privatize the nation’s postal savings and insurance system, but on issues ranging from pension reform to diplomatic relations.

“As soon as possible, he has to say what he will do after postal reform and show concrete programs,” the Asahi newspaper said in a front page analysis.

Mr. Koizumi seeks to privatize the postal system and its $3 trillion in savings and insurance plans by 2017. Those savings, long used as a slush fund for LDP pork-barrel projects in rural areas, make it the world’s biggest financial institution.

Many in rural areas — the bedrock of LDP support — fear privatization will reduce services, while the postal workers’ union fears job cuts.

Mr. Koizumi plans to call a special session of parliament as early as Sept. 21 to again tackle postal privatization, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.

The legislation was slapped down last month in the upper house with the help of rebels from within his own party. Mr. Koizumi plans to reshuffle his Cabinet after the special session ends, Kyodo reported.

This time, numbers are on his side. Combined with seats from ally New Komei Party, the ruling coalition now has more than 320 seats — a two-thirds majority to override any veto by the upper house.

The opposition Democratic Party, which made impressive gains in recent elections, plunged from 175 seats to 113, and party leader Katsuya Okada announced early yesterday that he would step down. The Democrats plan to elect a new president Saturday, party officials said.

The LDP victory will test Mr. Koizumi’s ability to transform the party’s once-moribund, pork-barrel politics into a streamlined force for dynamic reform and smaller government.

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