Koizumi is named Japan's prime minister

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TOKYO - Junichiro Koizumi was elected prime minister of Japan today, capping a stunning sweep to power on public disgust with his predecessor's scandals, gaffes and failure to pull the nation out of its deep economic doldrums.

In the more-powerful lower house of Parliament, Koizumi won with 287 votes, easily above the 240 majority he needed. Yukio Hatoyama was next with 127. Koizumi won 138 votes in the upper house, to 59 for Hatoyama, head of the opposition Democratic Party.

A media-savvy but relatively untested politician whose highest post until now had been health minister, Koizumi swept to power on impassioned promises to reform the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and pull Japan out of its decade-long economic slump.

Koizumi's pleas for change clearly won a popular mandate.

Koizumi, Japan's ninth premier in just 10 years, swept virtually all of the primaries among the party's rank and file, where a strong sense of crisis has been building. Many in the party fear the sour economy and voter disgust with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori could translate into a big loss in Parliament elections in July.

Holding to his campaign vows, Koizumi carried out a shake-up of the party's top posts yesterday, replacing the old guard with three allies.

But his fiery anti-status-quo rhetoric has alienated some of the party's leaders, whose support he will need if he is to make good on his promises, which include a plan to privatize Japan's huge postal savings system.

Offering savings accounts to customers, Japan's post office in effect doubles as the world's largest bank. Koizumi has called the system inefficient, but it is a source of political support for the ruling party and few in the party leadership want it changed.

Koizumi's ability to balance such conflicting interests was seen as his biggest challenge in the days ahead. Mori's Cabinet resigned en masse today, clearing the way for a new government. Koizumi is to announce the Cabinet later today, but appeared to be undecided on the key posts and met throughout the morning with party leaders to negotiate.