Japanese PM is the only Japanese politician people know

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is about the only Japanese politician anyone anywhere else in the world can identify.

The dashing divorcee with his wavy grey hair and open-necked shirts used to be greeted with screams from schoolgirls and female fans when he went walkabout.

At a recent election rally in Kyoto, the response from the crowd was more muted - a rather polite, Japanese round of applause.

Mr Koizumi had promised so much when he first came to power, saying he would destroy his party, the Liberal Democratic Party, if its more conservative factions blocked his plans for reform, BBC reports.

Four years on he has brought it to the brink, asking voters on Sunday to back his plans to privatise the country's post office, plans which were blocked by lawmakers in the upper house of parliament, including some members of his own party.

"The public and the media call Koizumi 'undemocratic' or 'dictatorial' for calling this election," said Ofer Feldman, a professor at Doshisha University.

"But what we see here is a typical Western style of leadership. He made a decision, acted on it and has made clear he's prepared to take responsibility for it. The Japanese are not used to this kind of style."

Kosuke Shimizu from Ryukoku University has a different view.

"It's bizarre," he said, "calling this election doesn't make sense. Mr Koizumi's Post Office Privatisation Bill was rejected by the upper house of parliament.

"Now we are having an election to choose members of the lower house. What happens if a majority of people who support postal privatisation get elected and pass it, but it's rejected in the upper house again? Will we have another election?"

Mr Koizumi's hope is that a strong showing will give him a fresh mandate to push his reforms and override his opponents

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