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Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi’s chances of being elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party appear to be increasing as support for his candidacy is gradually spreading among the party’s major factional groups, party sources said Wednesday.

It is still unclear when Obuchi, also leader of the ruling LDP’s largest factional group, will declare his bid to succeed the departing incumbent, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Obuchi is waiting to see whether other factional groups field candidates for the race, the sources said.

Senior members of Obuchi’s faction met Wednesday morning and affirmed that their leader was their presidential candidate. The party’s Lower House majority makes it a virtual certainty that the president will become prime minister.

Obuchi and Seiroku Kajiyama, a former chief Cabinet secretary and staunch advocate of an aggressive economic policy, were present at the meeting. Kajiyama, who had also been seen as a possible candidate for party president, did not express any particular opinions, the sources said.

The decision by the factional group made it unlikely that Kajiyama would enter the race.

Yohei Kono, who served as LDP president — but not as prime minister — between 1993 and 1995, met Tuesday night with Kajiyama and urged him to declare his candidacy. But Kajiyama expressed his reluctance to do so, the sources said.

Following the talks with Kajiyama, the possibility of Kono declaring his candidacy grew, the sources said. Kono belongs to a factional group led by former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

However, other senior members of the Miyazawa faction have begun work toward building a consensus among rank-and-file members to support Obuchi’s bid for the party’s presidency.

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