Koizumi tells acolytes to stay away from factions

by Reiji Yoshida

Despite the Liberal Democratic Party’s overwhelming victory in Sunday’s Lower House election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appears to want to exert even more control over the LDP.

Koizumi said Tuesday he believes newly elected members of the party should avoid joining factions because he has already ordered LDP executives to come up with measures to foster their independence.

“I have told the leadership that they should think about measures to help them gather information on or study (policy matters) without being a member of a faction,” Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Tokyo.

Asked if he may hold regular briefings with new lawmakers to inform them of various issues, including Diet schedules and party posts, he said that was an option.

“Such measures are included” in steps the LDP executives will consider, Koizumi said.

Most of the newly elected members are considered loyal to Koizumi because they rode on the back of his overwhelming popularity. Separating them from the major LDP factions would further strengthen Koizumi’s grip on the party.

The LDP’s old guard and their factions, most notably the one led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and one run by ex-LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, had long been thorns in Koizumi’s side. But Hashimoto retired and Kamei and others of the old guard were purged in the election, and the factions are considerably weakened.

Since the time Koizumi called the election last month, the Hashimoto faction has lost 15 Lower House members, the Kamei faction 12, and the one led by Lower House member Mitsuo Horiuchi two.

The Hashimoto faction hasn’t been able to find a successor to its namesake since he quit amid a political donation scandal and subsequently retired, and Kamei and Horiuchi had to leave the LDP. Both had been outcasts for voting against the Koizumi-inspired postal privatization bills in violation of LDP rules.

Meanwhile, the faction led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori added two Lower House members, giving it a total of 53 in the chamber. Combined with the faction’s 26 Upper House members, he now commands the largest faction, with 79 members, which counted Koizumi as a member before he became prime minister.

Faction leaders once dominated the LDP and hence politics, and through their strengths were able to secure key party and Cabinet posts due to their vast fundraising capabilities and heavy influence on their ranks.

But never-ending corruption scandals — along with revisions to the political funds control law and the electoral system in the early 1990s — have gradually sapped the faction leaders’ clout.

This, as a result, has enabled Koizumi, a lone wolf with few followers, to capture the ruling LDP’s helm.