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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Koizumi Wins Stunning Victory

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's long-ruling party won a landslide victory in Sunday's election for the parliament's lower house, television exit polls showed, a stunning win that will tighten the U.S. ally's grip on power and give him a broad mandate for market-friendly reform.

An exit poll by public broadcaster NHK showed the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been governing in coalition, would win between 285 and 325 seats in the 480-seat chamber.

That represents a striking victory for Koizumi, a media-savvy maverick who gambled his career in a populist appeal to voters to back his plan to privatize Japan's vast postal system, a financial giant with $3 trillion in savings and insurance assets.

"Many citizens are telling us to press ahead again with reforms," LDP policy chief Kaoru Yosano said on television after the exit poll results.

NHK's findings were in line with those of private television broadcasters including TBS, which forecast the LDP would win between 298 and 313 seats.

NHK also forecast that the LDP and its partner, the New Komeito party, would win a combined total of between 313 and 361 seats, allowing them to dominate the powerful lower chamber.

The 63-year-old Koizumi, a telegenic veteran with an aptitude for punchy slogans but a mixed record on implementing change, called the election after LDP lawmakers helped the opposition to defeat bills in the upper house to privatize Japan Post.

Koizumi's shocking decision to strip LDP rebels of party backing and send what the media called "assassin" candidates to challenge the "traitors" grabbed the limelight, making the election as much a referendum on Koizumi himself as on his policies.

A victory for Koizumi's two-party coalition will please Washington, where he is seen as a staunch friend for backing the Iraq war, and would cheer investors in Japanese financial markets, who want reform to stay on track.

But there will be scant applause in China and South Korea, ties with which have chilled since Koizumi took office in 2001 and claims of rising Japanese nationalism and regional rivalry arose.

The main opposition Democratic Party had argued that only a change of government could achieve reform and that other issues, such as pension reform, mattered more than the post office -- although the Democrats also say Japan Post needs to be reformed.

"I did what I had to do, but it was frustrating that we were never really arguing on the same plane," said Katsuya Okada, the leader of the Democrats, before the results were known.

"I wanted to debate policy."

NHK's exit poll showed the centrist Democrats taking only between 84 and 127 seats, a sharp defeat that was likely to raise questions about the future of a two-party system in Japan, where the LDP has ruled on its own or in a coalition for most of the past five decades.