The Liberal Democratic Party is likely to hold its presidential election in mid-August, a little more than a month before Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s term as party president expires, sources said Wednesday.

According to LDP rules, the election should be held around Sept. 20, but Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki, major LDP presidential aspirants, virtually agreed Wednesday to an earlier date.

Their acceptance effectively paves the way for Obuchi to serve another term as LDP president, as it comes when major factions are voicing support for Obuchi’s re-election.

Kato’s faction agreed to the early election in the morning during a meeting attended by top aides, members of the faction said.

Yamasaki told reporters at a Tokyo hotel the same day that the timing of the presidential election would be determined by everyone involved and that the election does not have to be held in late September by any means.

Meanwhile, former LDP President Yohei Kono, who leads a small group within the party, reportedly insisted on holding the election as scheduled.

Besides the Kato faction, those led by LDP Secretary General Yoshiro Mori and Taku Yamasaki, former chairman of the LDP Policy Affairs Research Council, accepted the early election because of the growing likelihood that an extraordinary session of the Diet may convene in late August, political sources said.

But while agreeing to early polls, Kato has rejected calls from Obuchi supporters to scrap the election altogether so Obuchi could retain his post unopposed.

A suprapartisan group led by former Construction Minister Shizuka Kamei is reportedly hoping Obuchi will be re-elected party president, uncontested, and that the prime minister will reshuffle his Cabinet early.

As head of the LDP’s No. 2 faction, Kato, who served as LDP secretary general under former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is regarded as one of Obuchi’s main challengers.

The LDP presidency carries with it the post of prime minister under an LDP-controlled House of Representatives.

Obuchi, 61, took over from Hashimoto, who quit last July over the party’s poor showing in the House of Councilors election that month. Obuchi is serving out the remainder of Hashimoto’s second two-year term as LDP president, which runs to the end of September.

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