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Japanese Ruling Coalition Returns to Power Following Parliamentary Election - 2003-11-10

In Japan's nationwide parliamentary election, the coalition government of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was returned to power Sunday, but with a smaller majority than in the last parliament. The main opposition Democratic Party made substantial gains, which area seen as a big step toward establishing a true two-party political system.

Japan's ruling coalition has declared a slim majority in Sunday's general election, the first such trial for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi since he took office more than two years ago.

According to the final tally reported by the Japanese media, Mr. Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party lost 10 seats and now will have 237 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. The LDP, together with two smaller coalition partners, will have 275 seats, down from 287.

After the election, Mr. Koizumi said his ruling bloc had built a record of achievement, adding that he thinks voters support his policies.

The victory means Mr. Koizumi is virtually guaranteed to remain in power. But it is unclear if he has the public support to push ahead with his ambitious economic reform agenda. Mr. Koizumi's goals of privatizing some major industries and cutting back on public spending are controversial, especially with his party's traditional supporter base in rural areas.

The prime minister also acknowledged the main opposition group's strong showing. He said the Democrats' gains show that some people want change.

The Democratic Party won 177 seats, up from 137 before the election.

Naoto Kan, leader of the party, said the advance will help bring Japan into an era of genuine two-party politics. He said his responsibility is to lead this leap forward, so that change of government is possible in the future

Other parties have provided token opposition to the LDP, which has ruled Japan almost continuously for 50 years, but they have never before posed a real challenge.

Many younger, urban voters cast ballots in favor of the Democrats on Sunday, while older people in rural areas supported the ruling party.