No seat at Koizumi table for factions

by Reiji Yoshida

Junior Diet members should avoid jealousy — this was the advice Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had Wednesday for 30 new Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who weren’t invited to a party dinner he hosted the previous evening, apparently because they had joined LDP factions.

“They are still freshman lawmakers, just elected to their first term, aren’t they? I don’t think they should be jealous,” a frowning Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Koizumi, the LDP president, hosted the casual dinner Tuesday at his residence in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, but only invited 53 of the 83 LDP lawmakers elected to their first term in September’s House of Representatives general election. The 53 who were invited had heeded Koizumi’s request and had not joined one of the LDP’s nine factions.

Several of the rebuffed lawmakers voiced dissatisfaction at not being invited, saying all the first-term lawmakers, regardless of whether they are in factions, should have been treated equally by the party president.

The exclusions might have been retaliation from Koizumi, a loner who has often fought with the faction bosses, some Diet insiders said.

The political world of Nagata-cho is often described as rife with petty jealousies by politicians who seek status, and monetary and electoral support through loyalty to influential faction bosses.

Some party members alleged the 53 invited to the dinner are part of an invisible Koizumi faction. While not an official group, the lawmakers feel a strong loyalty to the prime minister because most feel they owe their poll victories to him because of his popularity.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe denied this during a news conference Wednesday.

“We limited the number (of dinner guests) because space at the prime minister’s residence is limited,” he claimed. “A faction is usually formed to take the reins of government. I don’t think the prime minister needs to form a faction, because he’s already in power.”