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Japan Votes in Crucial Election - 2001-07-29


Japanese national broadcaster NHK is reporting unofficial results, and exit polls indicate the ruling coalition has won a majority of seats in Japan's upper house of parliament election. The vote is widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Koizumi's plans for tough economic reforms.

As predicted, the spectacular popularity of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi helped candidates from his Liberal Democratic Party and its two coalition partners win seats.

Political analyst Zenichiro Tanaka of Tokyo Kogyo University says that the strong performance by candidates from the coalition government suggests that Mr. Koizumi has his first public mandate for difficult economic reforms. He says Mr. Koizumi's popularity has no doubt added to the number of seats won and says the prime minister's party is doing well.

The election is the first parliamentary poll since the Koizumi administration took office in late April, following the resignation of deeply unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Since then, Mr. Koizumi has maintained extremely high public ratings, even though he favors a painful economic reform plan that is sure to bring hardship to many people. Mr. Koizumi says it will ultimately lift Japan out of a decade-long economic slump.

Ichita Yamamoto won a seat in Gunma Prefecture north of Tokyo. In his victory speech, he pledged to support Mr. Koizumi's policies. He said he would like to do his best to support Mr. Koizumi's revolutionary plans and he will try to implement them on a local basis.

As the election results came in, the mood was upbeat at headquarters for the Liberal Democratic Party in central Tokyo. As candidates won their seats, officials placed ribbons in the shape of a lion above pictures of each successful candidate, a reference to Mr. Koizumi's nickname of Lionheart.

The upper house election is being followed closely across Japan and abroad because Mr. Koizumi's fate as a reformer and Japan's status as a global economic power are at stake.