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    Japan's LDP Wins Absolute Majority for First Time in 15 Years

    Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has achieved a resounding vote of confidence from the electorate. A month ago, when he called a snap election, many political experts predicted his Liberal Democratic Party would fare poorly and the prime minister would have to step down. The results early Monday show the LDP gaining its first absolute majority in 15 years in the more powerful Lower House of Parliament.

    At the election headquarters of Transport Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, a refrain of banzai, a traditional cheer, went up. It was also heard in campaign offices of Liberal Democratic Party candidates nationwide.

    Mr. Ishihara thanks his supporters for helping the governing party achieve a landslide victory.

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, late Sunday, appearing on the national NHK television network, said the election results demonstrate the Japanese people are solidly for reform.

    Mr. Koizumi calls the outcome beyond his expectations, but says he will firmly resist calls to stay in his post beyond his current term as party leader, which expires one year from now.

    On the split screen during Mr. Koizumi's appearance was a somber looking leader of the country's largest opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan. Katsuya Okada's party suffered a crushing setback. Rather than gaining momentum, it actually lost seats.

    Mr. Okada says he takes responsibility for the voters not getting the DPJ's message that the only way Japan can reform is with a change of political parties.

    Just a month ago, the DPJ was given a serious chance to topple the conservative LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komei Party. The LDP has been at the helm of the government since it was established in 1955, except for a 10-month period.

    Since calling the snap election a month ago, Mr. Koizumi cast out a number of older stalwarts in his party who opposed the maverick prime minister's postal reform plan.

    One of those expelled, former Construction Minister Shizuka Kamei, warns Japan will pay a price as a result of the LDP recruiting what he calls "assassin" candidates to defeat those opposing the prime minister.

    An embittered Mr. Kamei, who retained his own seat, says Japan is finished as a democracy. He says while the LDP may enjoy its victory, the outcome is devastating for the Japanese people. Mr. Kamei, a long-time senior figure in the governing party, laments that the LDP is no longer the party he loved.

    Mr. Kamei joined those who strongly fought Mr. Koizumi's postal privatization plan. The post office, with its trillions of dollars in postal savings and insurance policies, is a lucrative source of funds for public works projects that have benefited rural constituents in traditional LDP strongholds.

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