Koike takes on Kobayashi as LDP hits postal rebels

by Reiji Yoshida

The Liberal Democratic Party has stepped up its offensive against the rebels who voted against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization bills, tapping Environment Minister Yuriko Koike to run against one of Koizumi’s leading opponents in the Lower House election scheduled for Sept. 11.

Koike revealed Wednesday morning that she has been asked by the LDP’s executives to run against LDP rebel Koki Kobayashi, a leading postal bill opponent. At a news conference later in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, Koike said she would run in the Tokyo No. 10 constituency, which is where Kobayashi plans to run for re-election.

Koike initially planned to run for the Hyogo No. 6 constituency.

“I’d must ask (voters) if they still want Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s reforms,” she said. “I don’t have any support group (in Tokyo), so I have to start from scratch. But I want to win (the election) fairly by explaining our political policy.”

In the last Lower House election, in November 2003, Kobayashi won his seat by a thin margin of 4,562 votes, barely defeating Muneaki Samejima of the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s largest opposition party.

If the high-profile Koike, a former anchorwoman, jumps into the race, the conservative vote will be split and greatly diminish the chances of Kobayashi regaining his seat.

In the last election, Koike ran on the LDP’s ticket and was elected by proportional representation from the Kinki bloc in western Japan.

Kobayashi criticized Koizumi about the prospects of Koike running on his turf.

“An attempt to pit an LDP member against another (in the same constituency) reminds me of the Roman Empire forcing prisoners to fight against ferocious beasts simply for the emperor’s pleasure,” Kobayashi angrily told a news conference. “This has never happened in a postwar parliamentary democracy.”

On Wednesday evening, Kyogon Hagiyama, a former Lower House member, paid a visit to Koizumi to say he would run for the Toyama No. 3 constituency, where Tamisuke Watanuki, another major LDP opponent of the postal privatization bills, also plans to run.

The postal privatization bills were rejected by the Upper House on Monday as 30 LDP members in the chamber either voted against or abstained from voting, prompting Koizumi to dissolve the Lower House and call the election.

Last month, the bills cleared the Lower House with a razor-thin margin of five votes as 37 LDP lawmakers voted against them and another 14 abstained.

After calling the election, Koizumi said the LDP will not endorse the 37 as LDP candidates and ordered party executives to field new candidates to run against the dissidents.

Meanwhile, Heizo Takenaka, minister in charge of postal reform, denied a report that he will run against Shizuka Kamei, another key LDP opponent of postal privatization, in the latter’s constituency in Hiroshima.

Takenaka currently holds a seat in the Upper House.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Takenaka denied receiving requests to run for the Lower House in the upcoming poll — either formally or informally.

“I plan to carry through with my responsibility as an Upper House member,” Takenaka said, denying any intention to run in the lower chamber.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Koizumi claimed he himself did not come up with the idea of fielding Koike against Kobayashi.

However, it is Koizumi who, despite the reluctance of other LDP executives, ordered the party to field a rival candidate in every constituency belonging to an LDP member who voted against his postal reform bills in the Lower House.

“This is an election to ask voters if they support or oppose postal privatization. Voters would be in a trouble if they don’t have a proprivatization candidate,” Koizumi told reporters.

Information from Kyodo added