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Koizumi Expected to Win in Saturday's Ruling Party Elections - 2003-09-19


Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is widely expected to triumph in Saturday's election for the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Mr. Koizumi has hinted that if he wins, he will reshuffle his cabinet, call a general election and move forward on a series of controversial reform bills.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appears set to retain his post as president of the Liberal Democratic Party.

On Saturday, lawmakers and party members will vote for the head of the party and newspaper surveys show that Mr. Koizumi's top three rivals have little chance of unseating him.

If he wins, as expected, Mr. Koizumi is virtually assured of retaining his post as prime minister, since the LDP and its coalition partners dominate Japan's parliament.

Despite his likely victory, Mr. Koizumi is campaigning aggressively, and has repeatedly pledged to push ahead with plans to reform the economy.

Speaking to supporters on a busy Tokyo street, he said he wants to continue with his reform policies. He is vowing to cut fat from the budget and to strengthen Japan's economic standing.

Mr. Koizumi took office in April, 2001, pledging to cut Japan's huge debt and shore up the country's troubled banks. While he has not yet achieved his goals, signs of a tentative economic recovery are helping his popularity ratings, which are now about 50 percent. That is down dramatically from a peak of more than 80 percent when he first took office, but still considered good for a Japanese leader.

People were impressed that the economy grew one percent in the second quarter of this year after more than a decade of swings in and out of recession. Corporate earnings and stock prices are also rising, with the Nikkei Average rebounding 40 percent after tumbling to a 20-year low in April.

Japan's banks remained overwhelmed by bad loans, but regulators are now imposing harsh penalties on the worst laggards.

Prime Minister Koizumi says he wants to privatize the postal system and public highway corporations to streamline the economy. These ideas are highly controversial in Japan, because they work against powerful supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party's old-guard politicians. These lawmakers tend to oppose the prime minister and have slowed his progress in passing new laws to achieve his aims.

Also controversial are Mr. Koizumi's views on amending Japan's pacifist constitution, which currently makes it tricky for Japan's military to participate in peacekeeping operations such as the one now taking place in Iraq.

Mr. Koizumi says difficult issues are mounting in Iraq. He says Japan cannot ignore this complex international situation and must contribute to world peace and stability.

Mr. Koizumi says that if he wins Saturday's poll, he will choose a new cabinet to help him make good on his reform plans. He is also expected to call a general election in November.

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