TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed on Monday to press ahead with postal reforms after a sweeping election victory and dismissed criticism that he has few other concrete plans on his policy agenda.
Koizumi”s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took 296 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament, the first time it has won a majority in 15 years, media reports said — a victory cheered by financial markets.
A final official tally is due on Friday.
Coalition partner New Komeito took 31 seats, allowing the ruling bloc to dominate the chamber with majorities in all committees and override the upper house if need be — and the alliance was reaffirmed on Monday after Koizumi met with New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki.
The landslide vindicated the media-savvy Koizumi”s gamble to appeal directly for voters to back his plan to privatize Japan Post, a financial services giant that includes a savings bank and insurance business with a combined $3 trillion in assets.
"The election was carried out under difficult circumstances at first," Koizumi told a news conference. "In the end, we got much more support from the people of Japan than expected.
"I accept the judgment of the people with a sense of great responsibility, and will work to pass the postal reform bills as soon as possible."
The Nikkei share average finished above 12,850 for the first time since 2001 as investors bought on the victory. The yen rose, touching two-week highs against the euro also due to uncertainty about an upcoming election in Germany.
Koizumi will resubmit the postal reforms to the upper house during a special session of parliament expected to start on September 21, and their passage seems likely after several rebels said they would back the legislation if the coalition took a majority.
Pressure to move ahead on other policy fronts will be intense, from both financial markets and voters, analysts said, but Koizumi dismissed criticism that he lacks a concrete agenda.
"I intend to push forward policies on other issues of concern to the people, such as social insurance, in parallel with postal reform," he said, without giving details.
Koizumi, 63, is a silver-haired veteran with a knack for snappy slogans but a patchy record on implementing change. He called the election after LDP lawmakers helped the opposition defeat bills to privatize Japan Post in the upper house.
His decision to strip LDP rebels of party backing and send what media called "assassin" candidates to take on the "traitors" created a buzz in the normally apathetic electorate, making the poll as much a referendum on Koizumi himself as on his policies.
That "Koizumi theater" helped boost voter turnout to 67.5 percent, against 60 percent in the last general election in 2003.
Koizumi has long promised to change the hidebound LDP, which has governed Japan for most of the last 50 years, or destroy it in the attempt. The victory will strengthen his hand over remaining old-guard rivals who consider their main job to be distributing benefits to the hinterlands and interest groups.
"He”s elected a lot of people who are urban and reform-minded and not part of the old machine," said Gerald Curtis, a political science professor at New York”s Columbia University.
"With this huge victory, the center of gravity in the LDP shifts. He hasn”t destroyed the LDP, he”s given it a new life."
The LDP, traditionally strong in rural areas, outperformed the main opposition Democratic Party in the latter”s previous urban strongholds. The LDP did so well in the Tokyo area that it ran out of candidates in the proportional representation district and had to give a seat to the tiny Social Democratic Party.
Analysts said Koizumi could come under pressure to stay on after his term as LDP president ends in September 2006, but he reiterated on Monday that he had no plan to do so.
"I have said I have no intention of staying on as party president and prime minister (beyond September 2006), and there is no change to that," Koizumi said.
Koizumi will keep his current cabinet until after the special parliamentary session, cabinet spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.
The devastating defeat for the Democratic Party, which lost 62 of the 175 seats it had when parliament was dissolved, has raised concerns about the future of a two-party system in a country where the LDP has ruled for most of the past 50 years, either on its own or in coalition.
The Democrats, who include former LDP pro-reform defectors as well as one-time socialists, could face a bruising leadership battle after the party”s president, 52-year-old Katsuya Okada, stepped down to take responsibility for the election debacle.
An election to choose the battered party”s new leader is likely to take place on Saturday, Kyodo news agency said.