Koizumi 's talk of reform strengthens one-party rule

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, when he came to power four years ago, boldly pledged to sacrifice his long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the sake of enacting reform. But ahead of elections for the powerful lower house of Parliament on Sunday, it seems as if the silver-haired leader has only strengthened the LDP's grip on power _ by making its members look like reformers even though their commitment to change remains in doubt. Triumph for the LDP on Sunday would mark a major turnaround for a party that only four years ago was widely considered too riddled with corruption and bankrupt ideas to last much longer in power. Koizumi's persona _ his meticulously coiffed mane, his love of opera, his enjoyment of the limelight _ has become synonymous with "reform" in Japan, where voters have long suffered under crusty wheeler-dealers more adept at doling out payoffs than charming an audience. The prime minister has promised to battle the powers-that-be while skillfully using the media to drag Japan into an era of populist politics in which image is a key ingredient to a leader's success. Koizumi's image has only been enhanced in recent weeks, when Koizumi purged dozens of party members opposed to his effort to privatize the postal delivery, savings and insurance services. He then enlisted media and business personalities dubbed "assassins" to challenge them for seats in parliament. The LDP's long-honed adaptability also has played a role, and its selection of Koizumi as party leader four years ago was a brilliant act of self-preservation, AP reports.