Despite the Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory Sunday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated his resolve to step down when his term as LDP president expires next September.
With all ballots counted, the LDP won 296 seats in the 480-seat House of Representatives, 84 more than it had going into the race. New Komeito, its coalition partner, lost three seats to finish with 31.
The LDP’s gains came mostly at the expense of the Democratic Party of Japan, which saw its seats in the chamber plummet to 113 from 177. The crushing defeat has prompted the party to seek new leadership.
During a news conference at LDP headquarters Monday afternoon, Koizumi indicated his goal to get the postal privatization bills that were scrapped in the last Diet session passed as soon as possible.
“We received greater-than-expected support” in the Lower House election, he said. “It means the public believes the decision of the Diet (to vote down the postal bills) was wrong.”
But despite the glowing figures and calls from both within the LDP and New Komeito to stay on, Koizumi said, “People made their judgment (in the election) on the premise that my term as LDP president ends next September.”
“There are many aspirants to be (LDP) president and prime minister,” Koizumi said. “I want to give those people the opportunity to play as active a role as possible.”
He explained that he plans to convene a special Diet session soon to resubmit the postal reform bills, and keep the Cabinet and LDP executive lineup unchanged while they are being deliberated. LDP leaders said the plan is to open the legislative session Sept. 21.
“I will think about how to handle (the Cabinet and the LDP leadership posts) after the Diet session concludes,” the prime minister said during the news conference.
With Koizumi projecting postal privatization as the key issue in the election and carefully exploiting media exposure to draw the maximum public attention to his “battle” against antireformers within the LDP, even other parties were forced to take a position on reforms.
Voter turnout, which had been in a free-fall in most elections in recent years, rebounded thanks to the high degree of public interest. Official figures from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry showed that 67.51 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday’s election.
This was 7.65 percentage points higher than the last general election, in November 2003, and the highest since the current electoral system was introduced in 1996.
But the increase in votes appeared mostly to benefit the LDP. The Japanese Communist Party saw its seats unchanged at nine, while the Social Democratic Party managed to gain two seats to boost its strength to seven.
Four Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) candidates won seats, while two of the three New Party Nippon candidates failed to land seats. Both parties were founded after the Lower House was dissolved Aug. 8, mainly by LDP lawmakers who voted against the postal privatization bills.
Thirteen of the 30 candidates who ran as independents after voting against the bills and being refused official LDP backing were re-elected.
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