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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Koizumi's 'assassins' get set for poll
By Sarah Buckley
BBC News

Japan's prime minister, with his penchant for waltzing with movie stars and dressing down, is already known as something of a maverick.

But his latest move is probably his most controversial yet - he has lined up a raft of celebrities and political novices to run on his ticket in Sunday's election.

Many have been dubbed Mr Koizumi's "assassins" by the Japanese media because they are standing against more than 20 former members of the prime minister's own party, whom he wants removed from parliament.

Mr Koizumi is so keen to get rid of the rebels because they voted down a key reform proposal last month and he banned them from running for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as a result.

Takafumi Horie
Founder of internet start-up Livedoor
Author of 'Earning Money is Everything: From Zero to 10 Billion Yen, My Way'
Fighting for a rural conservative constituency in Hiroshima

The "assassins", also dubbed "female ninjas", include Satsuki Katayama, a former Miss Tokyo University turned finance ministry bureaucrat, and Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, a household name as a one-time news anchorwoman.

They also include Takafumi Horie, an internet entrepreneur known for his spiky hair and brash image. Although he is technically running as an independent, Mr Horie is a keen supporter of the prime minister.

Mr Horie's campaign is attracting particular attention because the 32-year-old is pitted against former LDP elder Shizuka Kamei, 68. Mr Kamei is emblematic of the LDP's old guard style of politics which Mr Koizumi has vowed to "smash". Analysts say he lacks charisma and is suspicious of the prime minister's reform plans.

In contrast, Mr Horie has gained fame for taking on Japanese bastions of power. He tried, but failed, to buy two such institutions last year - a professional baseball team and media conglomerate Fuji Television Network Inc. His blog gets thousands of visits a day.

Satsuki Katayama
Former Miss Tokyo University and fashion model
First female budget examiner in finance ministry
Said Koizumi's "passionate request made me shiver"

He has taken up the prime minister's mantra with zeal - he and his supporters wear T-shirts printed with the Japanese word for "reform" - and although he is not running as an LDP candidate, Mr Koizumi is not putting up an LDP candidate against him.

Election gamble

While Mr Koizumi's protégés undoubtedly have popular appeal, many lack formal political experience and local knowledge, having been parachuted in to fight key constituencies.

Makiko Fujino, a celebrity chef whom Mr Koizumi is hoping will unseat the Democratic Party (DPJ) incumbent in South Nagoya, has freely admitted that she cannot debate on any subject except food.

Mr Koizumi's strategy is risky because the electorate, faced with a choice between inexperienced LDP candidates and former LDP members with now limited political clout, may hand their votes to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Yuriko Koike
Former TV anchorwoman
Studied at Cairo University, expert on Arab world
Fighting prominent LDP rebel Koki Kobayashi in Tokyo

But the prime minister is taking the risk because he views the election as a referendum on his bid to reform Japan's behemoth-like postal service, a proposal the LDP rebels had blocked.

Mr Koizumi also wants a modernised LDP, one prepared to vote through reform at the expense of vested interests.

That new LDP would also potentially count far more women among its ranks - most of Mr Koizumi's "assassins" are female, and the ruling party has also put women top of all 11 proportional-representation blocks.

Critics of the "assassins" plan have accused Mr Koizumi of pulling a cheap stunt which values style over substance. Others view the new LDP candidates as a welcome breath of fresh air in a political landscape dominated by backroom deals and grey suits.

What is not disputed is that Mr Koizumi's plan has sparked unprecedented public interest in Sunday's election - no mean feat in a country where half a century of almost unbroken rule by the LDP has turned many of the electorate off politics.

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