The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Koizumi party gets lifeline

Tokyo, Nov. 10 (Reuters): The smallest party in Japan’s ruling coalition said today it would merge with the dominant ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), allowing the LDP to regain the majority it lost in a general election.

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the New Conservative Party, said his party had accepted a proposal from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who heads the LDP, that the two parties join.

“The Prime Minister said it might be a more effective way to fulfill our promises to the people if our parties merged amd worked together,” Nikai said. “We will accept.”

The move will push the total number of LDP seats in the lower chamber to 244 out of 480, down from the 247 held before yesterday’s election but more than the 241 needed for a majority, giving Koizumi more strength as he tries to pursue his reform agenda. But strong gains made by the Opposition could make progress in reforms difficult. Koizumi’s three-way camp saw its strength in parliament’s 480-seat Lower House shrink to 275 seats from 287 in yesterday’s general election, while the opposition Democrats took 177, up from 137, the unofficial count showed. In a sign that the popular Koizumi’s personal magic had faded, the LDP took only 137 seats in the election. Today, though, three independents said they would join, bringing the total to 240, and another six said they might follow suit.

The New Conservative Party fared badly in the election, keeping only four of the nine seats it had held. Among the losers was party head Hiroshi Kumagai. Some analysts, however, said the poor performance by the LDP and big gains by the main opposition Democratic Party could be a blessing in disguise for proponents of change.

That is because Koizumi’s divided LDP must either embrace reform more fully now, or give way later to the pro-change opposition Democrats, they said. “We were able to build a foundation to continue reforms under the current structure (coalition), having won a stable majority,” Koizumi said. He seems certain to remain premier when the Lower House convenes, probably next week. He also said the present cabinet line-up would stay. But several analysts were quick to predict that his reform agenda of reduced public spending, privatisation and cures for the nation's ailing banks faced rough going.

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