The Liberal Democratic Party’s top decision-making body approved Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s resignation Tuesday and decided it will convene a meeting of all LDP Diet members next Tuesday to choose his successor as party president.

The new LDP president will probably be elected the next prime minister because the party still holds a majority in the more powerful Lower House despite its stunning setback in Sunday’s Upper House elections.

During a nearly one-hour meeting of the LDP’s Executive Council at party headquarters Tuesday morning, Hashimoto offered a deep apology to the council, saying, “I have keenly realized my responsibility for the party’s huge loss in the Upper House election.” Following Hashimoto’s announcement Monday that he will resign to take the blame for the devastating loss in Sunday’s poll, the LDP began a full-scale effort to find a successor to be party president, and thus prime minister.

Several possible names within the party have been mentioned. Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, who chairs the largest LDP faction, is considered a likely candidate to take over the posts. Other names being floated include Seiroku Kajiyama, former chief Cabinet secretary; Yoshiro Mori, head of the LDP’s Executive Council; and Junichiro Koizumi, health and welfare minister.

LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato told Tuesday’s meeting of the LDP Executive Council that although he and other top party executives had already announced their intention to quit their posts, they will stay at their jobs until a new LDP president emerges. This decision was reached in response to instructions from Hashimoto, who warned of political turmoil should the other leaders of the party opt to resign along with him simultaneously.

Some council members critical of Kato and other top party executives proposed in vain during the meeting that a new body be set up within the party to deal with matters relating to the selection of the LDP president. The party critics, including Lower House member Seishiro Eto, said the current LDP executives are no longer qualified to handle such matters.

However, Kato rebutted them by saying he and the other executives, including policy chief Taku Yamasaki and Executive Council head Mori, do not intend to continue controlling the party. “We have no specific intention at all. We are simply promoting the necessary steps to swiftly select a new president in line with party rules,” Kato said.

He went on to say the proposal to create a new party body to deal with the selection of a new president is not realistic because LDP rules must first be changed for that purpose, requiring more time.

The government and the LDP meanwhile began preparations Monday to convene two extra Diet sessions — one in late July to select a new prime minister and one in mid-August or later to discuss bills to dispose of bad loans at financial institutions, government and LDP sources said.

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