Koizumi's second term became a certainty after his ruling coalition won a stable although reduced majority in a 9 November election for parliament's Lower House.

Koizumi, who leads the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), repeatedly bowed to applause from supporters after garnering 281 votes out of a total of 479 ballots cast in the 480-seat House of Representatives which convened for a nine-day special session. 

The LDP controls 245 seats in the all-powerful lower chamber and its coalition partner, New Komei Party, has 34.

Shortly before his re-election, Koizumi told a gathering of LDP lawmakers he would press on with his reform agenda, which covers a range of issues from the overhaul of the economy to welfare and pension schemes.

"We face a difficult situation with tasks piling up, but I will do my utmost efforts to promote reforms," he said.

"We face a difficult situation with tasks piling up, but I will do my utmost to promote reforms"

Junichiro  Koizumi,
Japanese PM

Topping Koizumi's agenda is the question of when to dispatch troops to Iraq, whose worsening security situation has prompted his government to back-pedal on a plan to send an advance team. 

Opinion polls have shown a large majority of the Japanese public is opposed to sending troops to Iraq. A weekend telephone survey by the private Nippon Television network found 71% are opposed to the deployment.

In July, the ruling coalition pushed a controversial bill through parliament, allowing the first dispatch of troops since World War II to a country where fighting continues. 

The political opposition, which is against sending troops, controls 180 seats including three independents who joined the DPJ-led parliamentary group. Among them is former Koizumi ally and foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka. 

Pressure to perform

Koizumi - who took office in April 2001 promising to cut pork-barrel spending, privatise wasteful public corporations and fix ailing banks -  could become Japan's longest ruling prime minister in two decades if he completes a fresh three-year term as president of his Liberal Democratic Party begun in September.

The prime minister, who is expected to reappoint all his cabinet ministers following his own re-election, is under pressure from many voters, media and the Democrats to make real progress on his reform agenda. 

Along with the Iraq troop dispatch, reform of a pension system straining under an ageing population looms large.