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Koizumi strives to save Japan

In a country which had become utterly disillusioned by its politicians’ failure to revive the economy, Japan’s new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has quickly won huge popularity with calls for radical reform. Japan certainly needs this. And Koizumi intends to start at the key point, with the country’s ailing banks. But the consequences of reform will certainly be painful. If slowing growth and rising unemployment erode his popularity, the old political inertia may stifle Koizumi’s efforts yet.

Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was described by one of his fellow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of parliament as looking "like one of those homeless guys in the park". It is a remark that may come back to haunt the country, especially since Koizumi's warm embrace of economic reform policies is likely to increase Japan's unemployment rate, which is already at record high levels of around 5%.

No matter: only a few days after Koizumi's new government unveiled a painful blueprint to reform the economy, at an immediate cost of up to 200,000 jobs through getting rid of banks' bad debts, the LDP was the main gainer in key municipal elections in Tokyo. Koizumi himself is enjoying immense popularity, more akin to that of a pop or sumo star than a politician. The Japanese public has bought more than half a million posters of the prime minister and he is winning unheard of 85% popularity ratings.

The change in Japan's political landscape has been remarkable, unexpected and swift. Just two months ago Yoshiro Mori was prime minister, stumbling around and tackling Japan's problems with all the imagination and skill of an ageing rugby prop forward who has bashed his head in too many scrums.

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