Japan PM seen headed for comfortable election win


  • World
  • Friday, 09 Sep 2005

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling coalition looks set to win a comfortable majority in Sunday's general election, a fresh batch of surveys showed, the latest sign voters back his agenda to reduce government's role in the world's second-biggest economy. 

The Asahi newspaper said on Friday that its poll of closely fought districts indicated Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would win at least 241 seats in parliament's 480-seat lower house, giving it a majority on its own for the first time since 1990 and handing the two-party ruling bloc a firm grip on power. 

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi talks to reporters after casting his absentee vote in Tokyo September 6, 2005 for Sunday's general election. (REUTERS/Toshiyuki Aizawa)

The Asahi and three other newspaper surveys also showed the LDP doing well among uncommitted and urban voters who had leaned towards the opposition Democratic Party in recent elections. 

The maverick, wavy-haired Koizumi, 63, called the election after LDP rebels helped the opposition to defeat bills to privatise the postal system, a financial giant with $3 trillion in assets often criticised for funding wasteful public works projects popular with LDP supporters in the hinterlands. 

His decision to stake his political career on privatising Japan Post and to send high-profile "assassin" candidates to challenge the LDP "traitors" has played well with many voters. 

"I'm voting for the LDP because I'm in favour of postal reform," said Kaori Hagino, 26, who works for a foreign financial firm and said she had never voted for the ruling party before. 

"Koizumi's quite aggressive. I've liked him for a really long time. It's because he speaks his thoughts quite clearly -- there aren't that many people in Japan who are like that," she said. 

Investors in Japanese financial markets have been cheered by forecasts of victory for the LDP and its junior coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party, on the premise that a mandate for Koizumi will keep economic reform on track. 

Tokyo stocks have been trading near four-year highs as buying, especially by foreigners, picked up pace after Koizumi, who took power promising reform in 2001, called the election last month. 

But with the Democrats also preaching reform, analysts say policies won't reverse course no matter who wins. 

"Even if Koizumi loses, the chances are very small that Japan will change its structural reform policies," said Cosmo Securities equity strategist Kenichi Azuma. 

DEMOCRATS' STRATEGY 

"Koizumi Theatre", as the Japanese media call it, has caught the attention of Japan's often apathetic electorate. 

The Yomiuri newspaper said 78 percent of respondents to its survey planned to vote, and forecast that actual turnout was likely to exceed the 59.86 percent seen in a 2003 election. 

Not everyone, however, is enthused enough to cast a ballot. 

"It's not that I'm not interested, but I don't really know who to vote for this time," said 28-year-old Makoto Ogawa, who works for an IT firm. "I just prefer to watch it all from a distance," he said during a cigarette break in downtown Tokyo. 

Forty-one percent of respondents to a Mainichi newspaper poll said they would vote for the LDP in the proportional representation (PR) section of the election, 15 percentage points ahead of the Democrats, who were on 26 percent, the daily said. 

The election consists of two parts -- single-seat constituencies, where voters select a particular candidate, and the PR section, in which they must back a party. 

An Internet poll by the Nihon Keizai newspaper found 47 percent of respondents said they would vote for the LDP in the PR section, while 30 percent said they would vote for the Democrats. 

Among unaffiliated voters, however, the Nihon Keizai said its poll found growing support for the Democrats. Twenty-four percent said they would vote for the opposition party in the single-seat constituencies, versus 16 percent who said they would vote LDP. 

Media surveys have been proved wrong in the past. Analysts said this time the trend looked likely to hold, but added that the size of the LDP-led coalition's victory was still uncertain. 

The Democrats, led by the stern-faced Katsuya Okada, 52, have not capitalised enough on the split in the LDP, which has ruled Japan for most of the past 50 years, analysts added. 

The Democrats' own platform includes plans to reduce public works spending, shrink the postal savings and insurance system as a prelude to possible privatisation, and reform a pension system creaking under the weight of a fast-ageing population. 

"Koizumi beat up on the old LDP and cast the Democratic Party as anti-reform," said Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Keio University. "The Democrats should have stressed more that Koizumi's reforms were not enough." 

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds) 

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