Koizumi is Japan's third-longest serving postwar PM
Tokyo, Apr 5: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who plans to step down in September, became Japan's third-longest serving postwar leader today, attributing his political longevity to both voter support and dose of good luck.
The wavy-haired Koizumi, known more for his appeal to ordinary Japanese than for playing by time-honoured political rules, even now enjoys a public support rating of more than 40 per cent, a figure many of his global counterparts might envy.
The 64-year-old, who took office in April 2001, today tied Yasuhiro Nakasone, who served as prime minister for nearly five years between November 1982 and November 1987.
''I think I've always been protected by something,'' Koizumi told reporters this week. ''The reason an ordinary person like myself was able to come this far is due to the support and cooperation of the people -- and also, I've probably been lucky.'' Japan's longest-serving prime minister was Eisaku Sato, who served from November 1964 to July 1972. He is followed by Shigeru Yoshida, whose served two terms: from May 1946 to May 1947 and then from October 1948 to December 1954.
In a country long known for staid political leaders, Koizumi turned a reputation as an eccentric -- or ''weirdo'' according to a politician he later named foreign minister -- into an image of a reformer and swept into office on a wave of support for his broad reform programmes, as well as film-star-like popularity. At one time his popularity rating hit more than 80 per cent.
The public was initially fascinated with everything about Koizumi, from his ''lion mane'' of hair to his love of Elvis Presley, with whom he shares a January 8 birthday.
Although this faded, the media-savvy Koizumi was still able to turn to the people when needed, most notably by leading his Liberal Democratic Party to an overwhelming victory in a general election last September.
In the greatest gamble of his political career, Koizumi called the election after members of his own party helped the opposition defeat bills to privatise Japan's postal system, the core of his reform programmes.
Koizumi took the issue to the people by painting the election as a referendum on postal reform, and the LDP won in a landslide, its first majority on its own in an election since 1990.