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Parliament re-elects Koizumi Japan's PM
Updated: 2005-09-21 20:15

Japan's Parliament re-elected Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister on Wednesday following the ruling coalition's landslide electoral victory last week, and he pledged to plow ahead with privatization of the postal service and other reforms, the Associated Press reported.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Junichiro Koizumi, center, laughs with other lawmakers as he waits Japan's Parliament re-elects him as prime minister at the Lower House of Parliament in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005. [AP] 

The 480-member lower house cast 340 votes to re-elect Koizumi as prime minister. The upper house quickly followed suit.

"There will be no end to reforms. Our task now is to create a strong foundation conducive to furthering reforms," Koizumi said in a nationally televised news conference after the vote.

The Cabinet resigned en masse earlier Wednesday to pave the way for the convening of a special session of Parliament, which was scheduled to last for 42 days, until Nov. 1. Koizumi reappointed the same Cabinet after his confirmation as premier.

Koizumi has not publicly outlined a timetable for action, but media reports say the government will submit its postal privatization proposal to parliament next week, aiming for a vote in mid-October and a Cabinet reshuffle in November.

An official of Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party, speaking on condition of anonymity citing party policy, also said the ruling coalition would submit about 22 bills to parliament during its session, including legislation that would allow a national referendum on amending Japan's constitution.

The leading opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, has been in disarray following its devastating defeat last week, but the party was expected to come up with its own postal proposal. Party officials, however, have not come out with details, and it had pushed for a longer special session to give it more time to organize.

Privatization will be a massive undertaking. Besides handling mail deliveries, Japan Post controls some $3 trillion in insurance and savings deposits. It runs nearly 25,000 post offices and employs some 400,000 full- and part-time workers.

Koizumi successfully argued in the campaign that splitting up Japan Post and putting it in private hands would not only improve service and slim the bloated bureaucracy, but would also provide for much more efficient investment of Japan's prodigious savings.

Postal savings have long been used to fund political pork-barrel projects, such as unneeded and costly bridges, tunnels and highways, while the network of postmasters forms part of the LDP's old-style electoral machine.

The Koizumi plan would privatize the postal system by 2017. Under the original bills, the 10-year privatization process was slated to start in April 2007, but the political wrangling over the package has forced the government to delay the launch for some six months, and reports say another delay is possible into 2008.

During the campaign, the Democrats touted an alternative proposal to limit the amount of deposits into Japan Post, but that is being reconsidered following the election.

Koizumi's majority in the powerful lower house and his soaring approval ratings would also enable the premier to push through other closely watched decisions, such as extending Japan's dispatch of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and taking steps toward changing Japan's pacifist constitution.

Earlier in the day, Japan announced it would prepare legislation to extend its mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan for another year. The current mission expires on Nov. 1.

"The activities of Japan's Self Defense Forces overseas are highly regarded by the international community, and the mission (to the Indian Ocean) must continue," Koizumi said.

Japan, a staunch supporter of American policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, has provided fuel for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since November 2001 under a special law that was last extended in 2003. Japan has also stationed some 550 non-combat troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah on a mission that expires Dec. 14.

Koizumi said the government had not yet decided whether to extend its mission to Iraq.

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