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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Japan's election campaign begins
People listen to a speech by Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 30/08/2005
Prime Minister Koizumi wants a mandate for bigger change
Parliamentary candidates in Japan have begun campaigning ahead of next month's general election, which is set to be fiercely fought over economic reform.

The snap election was called by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after parliament rejected his plans to privatise the country's postal service.

Mr Koizumi said the poll would give the public a chance to give their opinion on his reform agenda.

The opposition Democratic Party have responded with their own reform plans.

Mr Koizumi is focusing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) campaign on his fight to privatise Japan's postal services - which holds some 330 trillion yen (US$2.9 trillion) in savings and insurance deposits - thereby boosting the economy.

Koizumi's plan to reform postal services
Pension system
Japan's non-combat troops in Iraq

The plans have already been blocked once by parliament - in part due to opposition from within Mr Koizumi's own party, concerned that they will lead to mass job cuts and a weakening of support for the LDP in Japan's rural areas.

Mandate for change

But Mr Koizumi argued on Tuesday that if postal reform could not be achieved, there was no prospect of other change.

"If we cannot achieve postal reform, then what kind of administrative reforms can we do in the future?" he shouted to a crowd of some 6,500 people outside a train station in a Tokyo suburb.

LDP in power for most of last 50 years
LDP currently holds 249 of 480 lower house seats
Opposition DPJ holds 175 seats
37 postal reform "rebels" banned from running in the poll on LDP ticket
LDP ahead in opinion polls
But this election is generating more interest than usual so swing voters could be key

"Until now, the political world has been controlled by those who tried to protect the interests of the public servants," he said.

So determined is he to force the reform through that he has taken the unprecedented step of sending hand-picked candidates to try to defeat members of his own party who oppose the policy.

But across the city, the leader of the Democratic Party (DPJ), Katsuya Okada, told his supporters that other issues mattered more than post office privatisation.

He singled out the need to reform Japan's pension system and to curb wasteful public spending. True reform, he said, could only happen with a change in government.

The DPJ will also pull the country's non-combat troops from the US-led reconstruction effort in Iraq by December if voted into government.

The official campaigning opens as support appears to be strengthening for Mr Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The Yomiuri newspaper published a poll on Sunday giving 50% support to the LDP, compared with the Democrats' 20%.

But a poll by the Asahi newspaper over the weekend showed support rising for the Democrats.

Correspondents say the 11 September election has generated an unusual amount of excitement in Japan where the LDP has been in power for most of the last 50 years.

A Yomiuri Shimbun poll published on Saturday showed 57% of respondents had a "great interest" in the election, compared with 32% ahead of the last general election in November 2003.

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