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The three candidates for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency all promised aggressive economic measures Thursday afternoon as they delivered joint campaign speeches at LDP headquarters in last-minute pitches before today’s election.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama, Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi also unanimously called for the prompt disposal of bad loans at financial institutions in order to reinflate the nation’s ailing economy.

Meanwhile, junior lawmakers in the Kajiyama and Koizumi camps, alarmed by news of Obuchi’s great lead in the race, began considering desperate moves to stop the foreign minister from winning the party presidency.

Younger LDP members in the Koizumi camp urged hardline action, including defecting from the LDP and forming a new party, and refusing to attend or vote for Obuchi at an extraordinary Diet session next week to chose Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s replacement, participants at a Wednesday meeting of lawmakers said.

The participants said seven or eight younger House of Representatives members proposed the radical steps. They include Shinichiro Kurimoto, Tadayoshi Iijima, Hakubun Shimomura, Koki Kobayashi and Nobuteru Ishihara — all elected from large urban constituencies, including Tokyo and Kanagawa.

The hardline younger members also met Thursday evening with fellow Kajiyama supporters, including Yoshihide Suga and Taro Kono, the participants said. They also plan to arrange a “stop Obuchi” gathering today ahead of the presidential election.

Speaking at LDP headquarters where they gathered to deliver joint-campaign speeches, Obuchi, Kajiyama and Koizumi mainly focused on the importance of revamping the moribund economy amid its protracted slump.

The new prime minister is expected to be named Thursday when an extra Diet session is likely to convene.

Kajiyama, 72, said in his speech that he will make every effort to resolve the bad loan mess, which is considered the core of the economic slump. “The financial system constitutes the artery of the economy. Without reforming the system, the nation’s economy will never recover, no matter how well other industries perform,” Kajiyama said.

Noting his age, Kajiyama said, “It would be unnatural for me to run in the presidential election if it were a time of peace and prosperity. “But in a time of turbulence, I’m determined to overcome the financial crisis at the risk of my life. It is my political will.”

Kajiyama — who last week left Obuchi’s faction to run in the race and has no solid support from any other faction — called on representatives of the LDP’s 47 prefectural chapters to reform the party by strengthening its local chapters.

Koizumi, 56, also said the LDP should first reform itself as well as listen to the voices of the public, whose anger was revealed in the Upper House poll results. “I know I have been called an eccentric person within the LDP,” he said. “But it is the LDP, and not me, that is strange to the public. I believe the LDP needs me to reform the party.”

The health minister stressed the importance of creating a society where people hold no anxiety about their future, and that this can be achieved by promoting infrastructure preparations to provide better medical and social welfare services. Koizumi is backed by a majority of the members of his faction, which is headed by former Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka.

A number of younger-generation lawmakers across faction lines have also voiced their support for Koizumi, criticizing Obuchi and his supporters as pursuing the old-style selection of the party leader by placing priority on the interests of major factions.

Koizumi and Obuchi called for abolishing or freezing the Fiscal Structural Reform Law — which was enacted in November to help reduce the nation’s accumulated debts — although both were Cabinet members at the time the legislation was enacted. Obuchi pledged to implement tax cuts worth 6 trillion yen and a thorough review of the current taxation system.

Obuchi is the sole candidate among the three who touched on the importance of diplomacy in his speech. “Now Japan has a prime opportunity to sign a peace treaty with Russia (by 2000),” Obuchi said. “We should not miss this chance.”

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