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Parliamentary Approval for Japanese Postal Reform Expected

Japan's upper house of parliament on Wednesday began deliberating a postal privatization package approved by the more powerful lower house. The legislation is expected to be enacted by the governing coalition on Friday, which would mark a huge political victory for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

What a difference one season has made for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. When his pet project of postal reform was voted on by Parliament in the summer, it barely made it through the lower house and was defeated by the upper house.

Now, the legislation is expected to sail through the upper house by Friday, after the lower house rammed through the once-divisive reform bills on Tuesday.

Speaker of the House Yohei Kono announced that the package had been approved by a 338 to 138 margin.

For years even before he became prime minister, Mr. Koizumi demanded privatization of Japan's postal system. Politicians have long used its trillions of dollars of assets to win voter support by funding unnecessary construction projects across the country.

The legislation would dissolve Japan Post and split its assets and services into four private entities by 2017.

The prime minister and many business leaders and economists say the reforms will release vast amounts of capital into the private sector, boosting Japan's economy. They also say the huge postal system will be forced to become more competitive.

Critics, however, fear it will result in job losses among the postal system's army of employees. They also say the changes will reduce banking and postal services to thousands of small communities.

Mr. Koizumi gained the political weight to accomplish his long-sought reforms after he boldly called a snap election in August. Despite predictions that he was finished politically, his Liberal Democratic Party scored a resounding victory, and some anti-reform politicians were defeated.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomo Takebe cheered the fact that nearly all of the rebels from the governing coalition who opposed the legislation in the summer have now returned to the fold.

Mr. Takebe says it was not possible for the opponents from the ruling camp to oppose the public's opinion that was expressed in the recent election.

Of the 13 rebels in the lower house, only former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma voted against the bills again and deposited a blue "no" ballot instead of a white "yes" one.

Mr. Hiranuma says he cast a blue ballot to follow his beliefs. He calls Mr. Koizumi undemocratic for so forcefully exercising power to crush the opponents of reform.