The factional jostling within the Liberal Democratic Party heated up Monday as former health minister Junichiro Koizumi announced his plan to run for the April 24 party presidential election.

Meanwhile, the party’s largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is expected to field Hashimoto in the election, although opposition from some of its members is preventing a final decision. Taro Aso, state minister for economic and fiscal policy, may also join the race.

Earlier Monday, the LDP’s presidential election administration committee decided to formally announce the election on Wednesday and accept candidacies Thursday between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

During the day’s meeting of members of the faction led by outgoing Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Koizumi, the group’s No. 2 man, said he is determined to run for the presidency.

“I am willing to change the LDP and contribute to the future of the country,” Koizumi said.

Senior officials of the Hashimoto faction said a consensus is building around a Hashimoto candidacy.

Some junior lawmakers of the faction, however, seemed dissatisfied. “I can’t say ‘yes’ just because (the faction executives) asked us to support a certain candidate,” said Hashimoto faction member Yoshitaka Shindo.

Hideaki Omura also told the faction’s gathering that he did not want to be forced by senior executives to support Hashimoto, now state minister in charge of administrative reform. The party election, which will effectively decide the nation’s next prime minister, is widely seen as a battle between Hashimoto and Koizumi. The two competed in the 1995 party election, which Hashimoto won.

The Hashimoto faction has 102 Diet members, while Mori’s has 60. The total number of votes to be cast in the election is 487.

The party election committee, chaired by Lower House member Kazuo Tanikawa, decided Monday to decrease the number of backers needed for a candidate to file a candidacy from 30 to 20. Nominators must be Diet members belonging to the LDP.

All candidates will speak at a joint news conference Thursday following completion of registration. The committee also endorsed a decision reached earlier between Mori, who is the current LDP president, and party Secretary General Makoto Koga to increase the number of votes to be given to each of the party’s 47 prefectural chapters from one to three.

The new election rules will be confirmed by a general assembly of LDP Diet members scheduled for Wednesday. Decisions on whether to hold a preliminary election at the local chapter level and on how to carry it out will be left up to each local body, committee officials said.

Major party factions other than the Hashimoto and Mori groups, meanwhile, are engaged in a last-minute game of chicken, apparently trying to maximize their postelection influence. Some factions that seem certain to vote for Hashimoto are indicating that Hashimoto is not the only choice they have.

The fourth-largest faction, headed by Lower House member Mitsuo Horiuchi, said Sunday night that it will prepare to field Horiuchi in the race — although the 42-member faction seems likely to retract its horns and back Hashimoto at the 11th hour.

A small but mainstream LDP group led by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono discussed on Monday the possibility of fielding its member Aso in the April 24 poll. But the 12-member Kono group is facing difficulty securing the 20 names required. Meanwhile, the third-largest faction, cochaired by former Cabinet member Takami Eto and LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, seems to hold the decisive vote.

Although Kamei himself has repeatedly indicated he may run, the 55-member faction is thought to be trying to retain its factional power within the LDP beyond the presidential race — including the reappointment of Kamei as party policy chief — by extending a helping hand to Hashimoto in the end.

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