Koizumi Expected to Prevail in Japanese Elections

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Japanese go to the polls Sunday, with an easy victory expected for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The election was portrayed as a referendum on political and economic reforms.


Voters in Japan went to the polls today. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to emerge the winner. The election was portrayed as a referendum on political and economic reforms, and the campaign was marked by some unusual tactics. As a result, often-apathetic voters responded with interest and voter turnout was expected to be high. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Tokyo.

Anthony, first of all, are there any early results available?

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Yes, there are results coming in right now. Japan was voting for its House of Representatives, which has 480 seats, and the winner needs a majority of just 241 or better. And the broadcasters NHK are now predicting from their exit polls that the LDP will get 285 to 385, which is clearly a landslide, and that would give Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi the mandate he's been seeking to push through his reform of the postal system and give his ruling coalition a very firm control over the lower house. And already people are saying that this is a tribute to his charisma and his framing of the agenda and his media tactics.

HANSEN: You've been talking with voters. What are they saying?

KUHN: Well, you know, people really had strong opinions about this election for a change, and a lot of people thought it could be the beginning of the end for the LDP's use of the postal system and its $3 trillion in assets to do pork-barrel construction projects and grease their political machine. Other people thought it could usher in an era of two-party politics for Japan, especially those people who voted for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ. And a lot of the opinions were just love and hate for Koizumi, people who, you know, called him a dictator for trying to crush dissent in his party, other people who just love his catchy slogans and his pastel shirts and his long, wavy hair.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. And so, as you said, these elections are going to give reforms a big boost?

KUHN: Well, it certainly makes it more likely that the prime minister will be able to pull off his postal privatization scheme, but that's going to take many years, and Koizumi can really only start that because he's going to step down as head of his party next year. The point is, he's made it a symbolic issue and a partial goal, but there are many more important things to do. They've got to overhaul their pension system, you know, they've got to pull the country out of debt. And as far as the two-party system is concerned, that's going to take a long time to emerge because DPJ still has to mature and find a clear message and stronger leadership.

HANSEN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Tokyo. Anthony, thank you very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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