Koizumi’s new mandate even gets LDP rebels’ nod

Contrite reform foes join in majority Diet vote

by Reiji Yoshida

Liberal Democratic Party President Junichiro Koizumi was re-elected prime minister Wednesday by more than two-thirds of the 480-seat House of the Representatives on the opening day of a special Diet session, with supporting votes coming even from some of his LDP foes.

In the wake of the LDP’s landslide victory in the Sept. 11 election, lawmakers from the LDP-New Komeito coalition in both the Lower House and the House of Councilors — as well as some LDP members who opposed the government-sponsored postal privatization bills in the last Diet session — voted for Koizumi, with 340 votes in the Lower House and 134 in the Upper House.

Seiji Maehara, the newly elected leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, received 114 votes from the lower chamber and 84 votes from the upper.

Many LDP rebels voted for Koizumi in an apparent appeal for leniency from party leaders bent on disciplining them.

LDP leaders have said repeatedly the party’s political ethics committee will be convened and will strip the rebels of their party membership.

The rebels were denied official LDP backing in the election and either ran as independents or formed new parties. But those re-elected as independents are technically still LDP members.

“I voted for Koizumi because the election (results) show that the nation places its confidence in him,” said Masahiro Imamura, a Lower House member from Saga Prefecture and one of the most adamant foes of Koizumi’s postal reform drive. “We just have to follow it.”

Asked by reporters whether he wanted to regain his status as an official LDP lawmaker, Imamura replied, “Yes.”

Among other postal rebels who voted for Koizumi were former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma and former LDP Executive Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi.

At a news conference after his re-election, Koizumi declined to say whether he will show leniency toward the LDP postal rebels who voted for him as prime minister, saying only that he and the party executives will decide at a later date.

“It’s too early to say something definite right now,” he said.

Koizumi added that he will press on with his administrative reforms on the strength of the LDP-New Komeito domination of the Lower House.

Specifically, he said he will maintain his relatively austere budget policy for fiscal 2006, and continue efforts to change the fiscal structure of the central and local governments toward the end of this year.

Later in the day, Koizumi reappointed all 17 members of his Cabinet, after they officially resigned in the morning.

He has said he will reshuffle the Cabinet and the LDP executives after the postal privatization bills are passed.

The Constitution states the Diet must hold a special session to choose a new prime minister within 30 days of a general election that follows a Lower House dissolution.

The special session usually ends once a prime minister is chosen, but the ruling coalition has decided to hold a 42-day session, until Nov. 1, so it can resubmit the postal reform bills, which were voted down by the Upper House early last month.

The ruling bloc hopes to have the bills passed by mid-October.

The DPJ, which suffered a humiliating setback in the election, plans to submit its own postal reform plan to the Diet that will include a reduction in the size of postal-account savings by lowering the maximum that can be held in individual accounts.

The DPJ, which has been criticized for being weak on postal reform, lost 64 seats in the election, prompting a change in party leadership.

Maehara has said one of his priorities as new DPJ leader will be to dispel the public’s impression that the party is strongly influenced by labor unions — in particular those for postal workers.

“It’s very interesting to see what counterproposal the DPJ has” for postal reform, a senior government official close to Koizumi said. “It will be a touchstone for the DPJ.”

In addition to the postal bills, the government plans to submit a bill to extend by one year a fuel-supply operation by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean to support vessels in the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in the region.

The ruling bloc may also submit a bill detailing the administrative procedures for a national referendum to revise the Constitution.

The Constitution allows the Diet to propose a plebiscite if two-thirds of lawmakers in each of the two chambers agree, but no concrete referendum procedures have been set by law yet.

The bill, if passed, could give further momentum to moves to amend the Constitution, particularly the war-renouncing Article 9.