Chances are equal on Japan elections, study says

Advocates for change in Japan could emerge rejuvenated from Sunday's legislative elections, thanks to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision last month to wage war on obstructionist lawmakers in his own ruling party. A poll this week by the daily Asahi Shimbun showed Koizumi's ruling coalition - his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its ally New Komeito - leading the top opposition party. According to Asahi, the LDP is expected to win more than 250 seats in Japan's 480-seat lower house of parliament.

Since becoming prime minister in 2001, Koizumi - known for his unruly hair and love of heavy metal music - has billed himself as a reformer. He often has butted heads with conservative, change-resistant members of the LDP, which has ruled Japan nearly continuously for a half-century, USA Today.

As Japan prepares for this Sunday's general election, arguably the most important in 50 years, the varying receptions are a telling sign of how the differences between Mr Koizumi and Mr Okada go beyond their party slogans about postal privatisation and pensions.

If Mr Koizumi is Japan's most dapper politician, his chief opponent is a study in sobriety. While the prime minister sports long, coiffured hair and wears pastel-coloured shirts without a tie, Mr Okada prefers the more strait-laced look of starched white shirts and navy or red ties.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Mr Koizumi's unconventional ways are directly boosting his popularity.

In addition to his appearance, his surprise political manoeuvres, such as refusing to support Liberal Democratic party rebels who voted against his postal privatisation bill and sending in so-called “assassins” to run against them, are arousing people's curiosity, says Naoki Arai, an art director with long experience in advertising.

A golden rule of advertising is to grab people's attention first, then explain the product, and Mr Koizumi has succeeded in doing that, he says.

“People don't necessarily want to hear the truth. But they will listen to someone they think is interesting,” Mr Arai says, informs Financial Times.

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