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In the Oct. 27 runoff parliamentary elections, the three-way ruling coalition won five of seven seats at stake, defeating the four-party opposition alliance. The elections were held in five Lower House and two Upper House constituencies. The coalition victory has created a measure of political stability for the time being, making it likely that debates in the extraordinary Diet session (ending Dec. 18) will proceed without a major hitch.

It is disturbing, though, that voter turnout in all seven polls fell to a record low. No doubt this reflects the public’s mistrust of politics amid a spate of corruption scandals involving both ruling and opposition parties. The nation’s parliamentary politics is in crisis.

It is worth noting, however, that among the three ruling parties, New Komeito demonstrated a strong ability to win votes. This may boost the party’s standing in the administration led by the Liberal Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the opposition defeat is turning the heat on the new executives of the Democratic Party of Japan, particularly President Yukio Hatoyama and Secretary General Kansei Nakano. By contrast, LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki is beginning to take a more active role in running the party. Had the coalition suffered a defeat, he would have been forced to resign.

In fact, Yamasaki has expressed confidence about Diet proceedings, saying Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration will take a strong stand on both diplomatic and economic issues in its dealings with the legislature.

Diplomatically, he said, Japan will conduct normalization talks with North Korea with an immediate focus on the issue of Japanese abductees and their families as well as Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development program. In doing so, he added, Japan will maintain close coordination and cooperation with the United States and South Korea.

As for economic issues, Yamasaki singled out the disposal of bad loans and an extra spending package as top priorities, giving full support to the efforts of Koizumi and Economic, Fiscal and Financial Affairs Minister Heizo Takenaka. In this regard, the secretary general indicated he would do his utmost to contain antireform forces in the party.

On Wednesday the government wrapped up an antideflation package, including Takenaka’s plan for bank reform. However, the size of the extra budget and the timing of its compilation are subject to further debate.

When asked about a possible U.S. pre-emptive strike against Iraq, Yamasaki expressed caution about Japan’s exercising the right of collective self-defense, but indicated that it was up to Koizumi to decide whether Japan should do so.

As for pending emergency security legislation aimed at defending the country from a direct military attack, Yamasaki hinted that work was under way to revise the package and that new proposals would be presented to the opposition parties in due course.

Regarding the bill for protecting personal information, also carried over from the regular Diet session, Yamasaki said the ruling parties, having already reached agreement on the measure, are now waiting for a response from the DPJ.

These comments from the LDP’s No. 2 man suggest that the governing coalition, encouraged by the latest election victory, is willing to take a more positive stance in the current extraordinary Diet session. Previously the LDP — and the coalition generally — had been inclined toward a passive stance, apparently in hopes of buying time to put off controversial bills and difficult issues until the next regular Diet session.

The triumph in the by-elections, however, seems to have changed all that. It can be said that the LDP and its coalition partners are now poised to make an offensive on the opposition camp.

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