Parliament takes up reforms after Koizumi landslide

Japan’s Parliament went to work on Wednesday on breaking up the massive post office after the landslide election victory of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose popularity keeps on rising.

Hours before the 42-day special session opened, Koizumi’s Cabinet resigned, a formality in the wake of the September 11 general election, in which reforming the Japanese economy was the key issue.

“The Cabinet resigned en masse,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a press conference.

The Parliament is expected to elect Koizumi as premier later on Wednesday.

Koizumi has said he will keep all of his current Cabinet members, but he is expected to reshuffle the Cabinet after Parliament finishes its extraordinary session in early November.

The parliamentary session follows the historic landslide victory by Koizumi’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which had suffered intense divisions over the premier’s drive to break up the powerful post office.

Koizumi called an early lower house election for September 11 after the previous legislature defeated Bills to privatise the post office, a cherished plan for which Koizumi has campaigned for decades.

Dissidents within the ruling party had worked to protect the current post office, which is effectively the world’s biggest financial institution with three trillion dollars in savings and insurance assets.

The postal Bills had been approved before the election by the lower house but were rejected in the upper house, which cannot be dissolved for snap polls.

In the powerful lower house election, Koizumi’s coalition won a more than two-thirds majority, meaning it can override the upper house where the government holds a slimmer margin.

The populist premier cast postal privatisation as a litmus test for reform during the election campaign, in which he enlisted celebrity candidates to defeat rivals purged from the LDP.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which was crushed in the election, is set to file an alternative plan to privatise the post office.

The opposition party on Saturday elected as its new president Seiji Maehara, a 43-year-old security expert.

Koizumi called the election in a gamble, with many in his party warning that voters cared little about his plan to privatise the post office, which the premier contends will revitalise the economy and clean up public finances.

But Koizumi is now basking in political success with massive public support for his determination.

In the latest survey, published on Wednesday by the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun, the Koizumi Cabinet’s approval rating soared to 62%, up 14,3 points from last month’s poll.

It was the first time since September 2003 that his public support rose above the 60% mark in the regular Yomiuri survey.

The Cabinet’s disapproval rating plunged by 10,9 points to 29,9%, according to the Yomiuri, which received valid responses from 1 825 people. - AFP

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