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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Koizumi winning popularity stakes
A man reads a newspaper report on a new CD, Koizumi present his favourite songs by Elvis Presley. The Japanese prime minister wrote the sleeve notes for the new CD
New CD: Koizumi presents his favourite Elvis songs
As Japan goes to the polls, Charles Scanlon examines the popularity of the country's premier.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi walked into the television studio to a rapturous reception.

It was the night before the official start of the election campaign, and he was to be questioned by 100 women voters.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Women say he looks even better in the flesh than on the posters
They wanted to know who chose his ties, about the blue buttoned down shirt he wore when he met President Bush, and about his favourite food.

At the end they took a vote on whether he looked better in the flesh than on his posters. The result was a resounding 94% in his favour.

Dream ride

No leader of a democratic country could dream of such an easy ride.

The opposition party has launched a formal complaint. But the broadcast set the tone for the campaign.

We really feel he's working hard. He's good looking and cool

A bank clerk
Governing party candidates - even those opposed to his reforms - are doing everything they can to be associated with Junichiro Koizumi.

They talk of him constantly on the stump and distribute posters of them shaking his hand.

In last year's parliamentary election, candidates went out of their way to shun Mr Koizumi's predecessor, Yoshiro Mori.

Supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party welcome Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Nagano
Celebrity politics like Japan has never seen before
At party headquarters, Koizumi mania is in full swing.

People queue up to buy Koizumi posters, Koizumi T-shirts and straps for their mobile phones.

A female bank clerk with a bag full of goods for her work mates said she thought he was very trustworthy.

"What he says is easy to understand. We really feel he's working hard. He's good looking and cool."

This is not democracy. I'm so scared by what's happening in the country

Kyosen Ohashi
Democratic Party leader
And Mr Koizumi is about to release a CD of his favourite Elvis Presley songs - with his own sleeve notes and photograph of the Japanese prime minister inserted into the booklet next to his idol.

This is celebrity politics - the like of which Japan has not seen before.

The country may be heading back into recession, with the financial system teetering on the brink again. But Mr Koizumi is holding on to a sky-high approval rating.

Opposition concerned

For the opposition it is an alarming development.

The Democratic Party has brought in its own celebrity candidates to try to counter the Koizumi phenomenon.

Retired talk show host, Kyosen Ohashi, has returned from Canada to head the party's campaign for the upper house election.

The problem for the LDP is how long this support will last, rather than if he's going to run away with a cult of personality

Professor Gerald Curtis
"I have never seen such a crazy turnaround in any other country," he said. "This is not democracy. I'm so scared by what's happening in the country."

But others see the phenomenon as a largely spontaneous reaction to a decade of frustration with the political system.

"The problem for the LDP is how long this support will last, rather than if he's going to run away with a cult of personality", says visiting Professor Gerald Curtis of New York's Columbia University.

Out on the campaign trail, Mr Koizumi is driving home his message of reform. He is promising fundamental economic and political change.

He says Japan can regain its former economic dynamism even it suffers a little pain and restructures.

That is the source of his appeal.

But he is yet to deliver on any of his promises. If he fails to meet the expectations he has aroused soon, his popularity is likely to evaporate as quickly as it arrived.

See also:

24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
11 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi to honour war dead
12 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Suicide bid at Koizumi rally
07 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi outlines vision for reform
25 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese PM's party wins Tokyo election
22 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's new face of politics
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi hails 'peaceful revolution'
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asian fears over new Japanese leader
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