- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

TOKYO — Since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took office four years ago, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been in disarray. Mr. Koizumi, however, has attract- ed many Japanese by criticiz-ing some members of his own party, calling them “resistant forces.”

Mr. Koizumi harshly attacked LDP members in the House of Councilors who voted against his postal-privatization bills in August. This strategy apparently has helped boost public support for the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito just before this Sunday’s elections for the House of Representatives — the larger and more powerful of the two chambers of the Japanese Diet with nearly 500 seats.

Based on their polls, Japanese news organizations predict the ruling coalition could win the voting Sunday by a large margin.

A single-party majority for the LDP “could be very hard to achieve,” said Akikazu Hashimoto, a political science professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

Mr. Koizumi dissolved the House of Representatives soon after the House of Councilors voted down the government-sponsored postal service privatization bills in August. He said he would seek the judgment of the public concerning his postal reform.

The election campaign officially began Aug. 30, with 1,132 candidates vying for 480 seats. The prime minister has said he will step down if the ruling coalition doesn’t win a majority, and Katsuya Okada, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the largest opposition party, made a similar promise. In last year’s House of Councilors election, the DPJ beat the LDP by one seat, attracting more nonaffiliated voters.

This time around, Mr. Koizumi declined to endorse members of his party who voted against his postal-privatization bills. Thus, they had no choice but to run as independents or form a new party. Some opted not to run.

As part of the LDP infighting, the prime minister dispatched “assassins,” including telegenic women, to the constituencies of party members who had opposed his postal reforms, hoping to defeat them.

That captured enormous press attention and the interest of usually apathetic voters. Although some criticized Mr. Koizumi, saying he went too far, others viewed his move as “strong leadership.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Hidekazu Tanaka, a public servant in Nara in the western part of Japan’s main island, who doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in politics. “I support his decision and will go to the polls on Sunday.”

The prime minister has been trying to turn the coming election into a national referendum on his postal-reform plans, and rarely touched upon other current political issues.

Opposition groups criticized the ruling coalition on a variety of issues, including Japan’s relationship with Asian countries, problems regarding the national pension system, economic conditions and financial reconstruction.

Japan’s debt reached 781 trillion yen — $7.1 trillion — at the end of March, the Finance Ministry said. The opposition blames Mr. Koizumi for failing to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, some critics pointed to another pressing issue.

“We are still facing the grim reality that Japan has not been able to break away from the deflationary economy,” said Mr. Hashimoto of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Snap election called over economic reform

TOKYO (Agence France-Presse)

Japan will vote Sunday in a general election called more than two years ahead of schedule by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to push his economic reforms.

Following are key facts about how Japan votes:

Japan is a parliamentary democracy in which Emperor Akihito is a symbol of the nation with no political role. The parliament, or Diet, has two chambers, the House of Representatives, which is more powerful, and the House of Councilors.

The House of Representatives has 480 members elected to four-year terms. It was dissolved by Mr. Koizumi on Aug. 8, paving the way for the coming election, which did not need to be held until November 2007.

In Sunday’s election, each voter will essentially vote twice — for a candidate in single-seat constituencies and for a party under a proportional-representation system. Candidates run in 300 single-seat constituencies. The other 180 seats are doled out based on party performance, with parties often giving seats to candidates who failed in the single-seat races.

The House of Councilors has 247 members who serve six-year terms, with elections held every three years for half the seats. Mr. Koizumi called the new election when his plan to privatize the post office failed in the House of Councilors, but ironically, he could only dissolve and call a new election for the House of Representatives, where his postal reform plan had passed, albeit narrowly.

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