Four conservative groups within the Liberal Democratic Party agreed at a meeting on Friday to merge by Dec. 14 and to support Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s initiative to form a coalition government with the Liberal Party.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama, who heads one of the groups, called on the participants to support the Obuchi administration, saying that forming a coalition government with the Liberal Party is the best way to alleviate the party’s weak political base.

Members of the groups, including former Construction Minister Shizuka Kamei and former Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, were considered to have been opponents of LDP executives — such as Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki — during the administration of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The rift in the party looks set to worsen.

Yamasaki, former policy affairs chief, Kato, former party secretary general, and former Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi have taken a negative stance toward an LDP-Liberal Party alliance. The move by the conservative wing of the party is seen as an effort to play a larger role in the LDP-Liberal Party alliance.

The unification of the four groups is expected to create a force of 70 lawmakers. It plans to call on Obuchi to conduct a Cabinet reshuffle by the regular Diet session slated in January as agreed with Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Despite the accord reached last month between Obuchi and Ozawa, some LDP executives have been trying to delay the timing of the next reshuffling of the Cabinet.

Democratic Party later this month.

At a regular news conference, Miyazawa said he does not think he has completed his work as finance minister amid the severe economic slump.

“The Japanese economy has not recovered a bit and difficulties lie ahead,” he said. “I will take care not to slow (the Finance Ministry’s administration).”

Miyazawa said Nov. 27 that he planned to leave the Cabinet when he hands the faction reins over to former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato.

He said at the time that it would not be “faithful” to stay in the Cabinet after the power transfer. Speculation held that Miyazawa was stepping down from Obuchi’s Cabinet because if Kato was to take over the faction, he would be squarely competing with Obuchi in an LDP presidential race next September.

At Friday’s news conference, Miyazawa said that he will be able to hand over control of the faction to Kato before the end of the year.

The finance minister also approved of the ongoing policy discussions between the LDP and its ally-to-be, the Liberal Party, on the consumption tax. The two parties have largely agreed to limit the use of revenue from the consumption tax to welfare purposes.

He indicated he is comfortable with the slow pace at which discussions are developing and the wide range of related issues being discussed.

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