TERENCE SMITH: Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, comes from a family of politicians. He's the third generation to hold national office. But while his background is traditional, his image and his message are not. The 59-year-old, long-haired leader is outspoken, divorced and a fan of heavy metal music.
Koizumi has been in politics for nearly three decades. He was first elected to parliament as a member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the LDP, in 1972. Reelected nine times, he has held two previous cabinet posts. A new voting system put in place this year helped Koizumi win. Instead of major party brokers in Tokyo deciding the election, local chapters of the ruling party around the country were allowed to vote, and they voted overwhelmingly for Koizumi, defeating former Prime Minister and party favorite, Ryutaro Hashimoto.
Koizumi has long been regarded as independent and irreverent, attacking his own party's failure to deal with Japan's decade-long economic woes. During the election, Koizumi portrayed himself as a radical reformer, promising an end to Japan's scandal-ridden party politics.
JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI (Translated): I will be the first leader of the LDP to be elected without the backing of a faction.
TERENCE SMITH: That had message broad appeal.
SPOKESMAN (Translated): It is obvious that the political methods used up until now are no good. He has the power to overturn things so I think something might change if he wins.
WOMAN ON STREET (Translated ): I support Koizumi because he has broken away from the party faction system.
TERENCE SMITH: Koizumi is Japan's ninth prime minister in ten years. He replaces the unpopular Yoshiro Mori, who like prime ministers before him, failed to turn around what was once considered the world's premier economy. It's been more than a decade since the world marked the rise of the Japanese juggernaut, an economic boom that made the Japanese the richest people in the world.
By the early 1990s, Japan's economy had turned sour with growth of just 1% over the last decade. Unemployment remains high, the financial system is riddled with debt, and a hoped-for recovery has fizzled, despite hundreds of billions of dollars worth of government spending and the largest public debt in the industrial world.
On the campaign trail, Koizumi pledged to tackle bad bank loans, and advocated privatization of Japan's postal system, where Japanese people have deposited two trillion dollars in savings. He also raised the possibility of incurring a few years of contraction in order to bring the economy back. Koizumi's new style politics were in evidence today as he made his first cabinet appointments. Among them were a record five women, including the nation's first female foreign minister.