Koizumi to steer new lawmakers clear of factions

by Reiji Yoshida

The Liberal Democratic Party leadership launched a series of study sessions Tuesday for its 83 fledgling House of Representatives members, a move expected to further weaken faction influence.

The sessions were organized by Prime Minister and LDP President Junichiro Koizumi to help the new Diet members remain independent from the party’s factions, which once dominated national politics.

Party executives plan to hold 10 such sessions until Oct. 13 so the new Lower House members can learn about Diet affairs and policy issues without having to join a faction.

Many of Koizumi’s political foes were the factions’ old guard, who maintained close ties with vested interest groups, including postmasters, construction companies, doctors’ associations and relatives of the war dead.

But in the Sept. 11 election, Koizumi and the party leaders successfully fielded numerous new candidates and won the support of independent voters in urban areas, greatly changing the power balance within the party.

“The fact that we can hold a meeting like this is symbolic of this election,” Toshihiro Nikai, head of the LDP’s election affairs bureau, said at the inaugural gathering.

“We’d like you to attend every session by all means,” said Nikai, a close aide to Koizumi.

During the session, the executives urged the new lawmakers to continue meeting voluntarily beyond Oct. 13 by choosing a team to organize and manage matters among themselves.

Koizumi has urged the new lawmakers to stay away from factions, and many, elected on the back of Koizumi’s popularity, are considered loyal to him. An increase in LDP lawmakers with no factional affiliation is expected to further strengthen Koizumi’s grip on the party.

“I have kept saying that unaffiliated voters are a gold mine (for the LDP),” Koizumi told the meeting’s participants. “The possibility of getting elected in a single-seat district is very low if you can’t win support from voters who are not affiliated with any party. You have to think very hard about that.”

LDP: Kawaguchi to run in by-election

The Liberal Democratic Party said Tuesday it will field former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in a House of Councilors by-election in October, senior LDP officials said.

Kawaguchi, 64, is now a special adviser to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after serving as environmental minister and later as foreign minister.

Official campaigning for the Oct. 23 by-election for the Kanagawa prefectural district will begin Oct. 6.