Koizumi calls for Nov 9 polls to test mandate for reforms

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday called a Nov 9 general election that will test whether the popular leader can win a big victory for the conservative ruling party and a new mandate for his reforms. 

Lower House lawmakers shouted the traditional “Banzai” (“long life”) after House Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki read out an order to dissolve the powerful chamber. 

A Cabinet meeting later formally set Nov 9 as the election day for a campaign that will kick off on Oct 28. 

The general election will be the first since Koizumi swept to power in 2001 on a wave of grassroots support for his reform agenda to rein in public spending, privatise postal services and money-guzzling public firms, and fix Japan's ailing banks. 

BANZAI!:Koizumi (centre),LDP vice-president Taku Yamasaki (left)and party secretary-general Shinzo Abe raising their fists together with other supporters during the kickoff ceremony of a campaign for the upcoming general election at the party's headquarters in Tokyo yesterday. - Reuterspic

“This will be a 'reform election',” Koizumi told lawmakers from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after the dissolution. “I seek your support to win the confidence of the people that the LDP has really changed.” 

Buoyed by signs that Japan's stagnant economy is at last recovering, the LDP is counting on traditional backers such as farmers and small business owners, plus Koizumi's popularity, to help it keep a majority in the 480-seat Lower House. 

A recent surge in the yen to three-year highs against the dollar has, however, clouded the outlook for the export-led recovery. 

As if with that in mind, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) unexpectedly eased its monetary policy yesterday by increasing the amount of funds sloshing around the financial system. 

It raised the upper end of its reserves target for the banking system ? the volume of current account deposits held by banks at the central bank ? to 32 trillion yen (RM1.11tri30 trillion. 

The ruling bloc ? the LDP and its junior partners, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito and the New Conservative Party ? held 285 seats in the chamber prior to dissolution. 

The LDP alone had 244 against 137 for the opposition Democratic Party, which hopes its recent merger with a smaller rival and a detailed platform of its own reform ideas will improve its prospects. 

“I think it will be the first real election in 10 years where the administration will be at stake,” Democratic Party leader Naoto Kan told reporters, referring to 1993, when the LDP lost power for the only time in its nearly 50-year history. 

“I think there are few people who think the current situation in Japan is good. I want the people of Japan to feel courage, that their one vote can change Japan,” he added. 

Koizumi's support ratings leapt by as much as 20% to more than 60% of voters after he shook up top party and Cabinet posts last month. 

If the LDP fails to maintain its majority, or barely keeps it, Koizumi's old-guard rivals could agitate to replace him or at least step up their opposition to his reforms. – Reuters  

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