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Staff writer

Three top executives of the Liberal Democratic Party have vowed to strengthen party unity and enhance cooperation within the ruling coalition of the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito.

The three key LDP figures are Secretary General Yoshiro Mori, Executive Council Chairman Yukihiko Ikeda and Policy Affairs Research Council chief Shizuka Kamei.

While their initial task appears to be maintaining party unity following the fierce battle among the factions in last month’s presidential election, supporting Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in order to put the nation back on track toward economic recovery also remains high on the agenda.

Kamei, known for not mincing his words, said he intends to make sure the tripartite coalition government pushes through large-scale public works projects.

“(We) will implement big projects under a supplementary budget, such as the construction of bullet train lines and expressways that meet new construction standards, and conduct a (feasibility study for the construction of) a third airport in the Tokyo metropolitan area,” the party’s new policy chief said.

He also said that he will allocate some 500 billion yen for a project to remove utility poles from streets and bury the cables underground, and increase the number of streetlights in cities and villages across the country.

“We won’t leave everything up to government ministries,” said Kamei, a former National Police Agency official. “We will boil down the contents (of public works projects) on our own responsibility.”

To better cope with the needs of the elderly and their families, Kamei also reiterated his intention to review a new nationwide nursing-care system for the elderly, which is to be launched next April.

Touching on the possible merger of the LDP and the Liberal Party, Kamei argued that forming a joint parliamentary group with the Liberals is conceivable as a first step toward any union, particularly in the Upper House.

Both parties share similar platforms, he added.

In an interview with Ikeda, who belongs to the faction led by former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, reporters’ questions were focused almost exclusively on his opinions concerning the distribution of the ministerial and party executive posts among the different factions.

Last month’s presidential election and the recent Cabinet reshuffle appear to have weakened the unity of the LDP, particularly widening a rift between the factions led by Obuchi and Kato, whom the prime minister defeated in the presidential race.

“I don’t think there is any lack of balance (in the distribution of posts) for any particular group,” Ikeda responded.

Obuchi offered Ikeda, who urged Kato not to run in the election, the post of chairman of the LDP’s executive council and — in spite of Kato’s strong opposition to the move — Ikeda accepted.

Ikeda’s appointment is widely seen as Obuchi getting in a degree of revenge against Kato, who has roundly criticized the tripartite coalition.

Ikeda said Kato’s candidacy in the race helped improve the LDP’s image and was good for the party because Kato and the other candidates were able to air their policies during their campaign.

“I seriously want him to be leader of the party,” Ikeda said. “But, in the reality of politics, it was not necessarily a plus for Kato (to run in the election).”

In a separate interview, Mori also admitted the presidential election had distanced some of the “losing groups” from the “victorious groups,” leaving antagonism within the party. “But there is no such thing as a clean and refreshing presidential election,” he said.

But Mori also emphasized that time will soon heal any wounds, adding that the LDP has repeatedly experienced realignments of factions after presidential races but has always maintained its unity as a party in the end.

On the possible union of the LDP and the Liberal Party in the next Lower House elections, which must be held before October 2000, Mori said the two parties are currently discussing the selection of candidates so representatives of the two parties do not compete against each other in certain constituencies.

Mori also said the coalition parties will review the Constitution under a special committee to be set up during the next ordinary Diet session, which starts in January.”Japan might be considered an extremely strange country if each time a minister comments on or discusses (possible amendments to) the Constitution, he is forced to resign,” Mori said.

But the situation has changed dramatically recently, and there is a broad consensus within the country that the Constitution should be reviewed, Mori said.

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