Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama has decided to run for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency to succeed Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and will announce his candidacy as early as today, LDP members said Thursday.

Kajiyama’s anticipated bid to seek the ruling party’s top position has exposed a rift within the LDP’s largest faction, headed by Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and to which he belongs. The faction opted Wednesday to field Obuchi as its presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the LDP decided that an election by party members to pick the new leader will be held July 24, instead of July 21 as earlier planned.

Former LDP President Yohei Kono, who had earlier hinted that he may also join the race, said Thursday that he will throw his support behind Kajiyama instead. Kajiyama also has the support of lawmakers across factional lines who have been critical of the outgoing party leadership led by Hashimoto.

Despite Kajiyama’s expected entry into the race, Obuchi still appears to have the best chances of being elected to the top party post next week. Obuchi is expected to officially announce his candidacy by unveiling a policy agenda today.

However, criticism has emerged from among LDP members that the party’s major factions are trying to choose Obuchi as the new leader behind closed doors. In Osaka, a local chapter of LDP lawmakers issued a statement criticizing such a move, saying that the selection of Obuchi will not change the party’s tarnished image. Whoever becomes LDP president will undoubtedly become prime minister as well because of the party’s Lower House majority.

At a meeting Thursday of the party’s Diet members, the LDP decided to change the timing of the election to pick the next party leader. Candidates must register by Tuesday, the originally scheduled poll date, with the new party head being chosen July 24 — three days later than initially planned.

Senior Lower House member Shigeru Kasuya told reporters that Kajiyama, a staunch advocate of an aggressive economy policy, telephoned him in the morning and conveyed his intention to enter the race. He quoted Kajiyama as saying that if nobody else bids for the posts to be vacated by Hashimoto, he will “do it” himself. Kasuya belongs to an LDP faction led by former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

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