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Shinshinto President Ichiro Ozawa finally abandoned efforts Friday to persuade Komei leader Tomio Fujii to drop the party’s plan to field its own proportional representation candidates in next summer’s Upper House election.

The failure to woo Komei’s Upper House ranks is expected to lead more members of Shinshinto to call Ozawa’s leadership into question at a time when the largest opposition party plans to hold its presidential election Thursday.

Shinshinto members did, however, decide to hold an election for party leader on Dec. 18, as scheduled. Sources said Ozawa has decided to run in the election. The fight for the leadership of the party is expected to develop into a feud between Ozawa and Michihiko Kano, Shinshinto’s former head of public relations and a former Management and Coordination Agency chief.

Ozawa, who gave up efforts to persuade the leadership of Komei to come around after repeated negotiations with Fujii over the past three days, tried in vain to dissuade Komei from officially distancing itself from Shinshinto. But it became apparent Komei members would renege on an earlier promise and not join with Shinshinto, at least before the Upper House election scheduled for July.

“We earnestly wished that Komei would formally join Shinshinto, as it had decided when Shinshinto was established (three years ago),” Ozawa told reporters at a Tokyo hotel after his talks with Fujii ended in failure. “We cannot accept Komei’s new plan. But it was decided on by the party,” Ozawa said, indicating he will make no further efforts to woo the party.

Fujii said, however, that the “friendly relations between Komei and Shinshinto” will continue, because the departure is limited to Komei’s plan to field a separate list of proportional representation candidates. Of the 252 seats in the Upper House, 100 are elected under proportional representation and 152 are elected from prefecture-based constituencies. Half of the seats are contested every three years.

Komei is backed by the nation’s largest lay Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai, and past national elections indicate the party can win about 7 million votes. With this voting bloc behind it, Komei has considerable influence over Shinshinto.

When Shinshinto was formed in December 1994 by a merger of eight parties and one parliamentary group, Lower House members of Komeito, Komei’s predecessor, joined Shinshinto outright. But Komeito’s Upper House and local assembly members formed Komei. It was then decided these members would merge with Shinshinto by the time of the Upper House election in July.

Komei’s latest decision reportedly reflects the party’s distrust of Ozawa and his much-criticized party management style, which has caused about 30 Shinshinto lawmakers to leave the party since the Lower House election in October 1996.

It is believed Komei’s decision will affect how 45 Shinshinto Lower House members who used to belong to Komeito vote in the presidential race. Shinshinto has 129 members in the chamber.

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