The Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential race moved up a gear Tuesday when Shizuka Kamei, the party’s policy chief, announced he would run, vowing major tax cuts to sustain the nation’s fragile economy.

With Kamei staking his claim, the April 24 election looks to be at least a three-way affair.

On Monday, Junichiro Koizumi, the flamboyant former health minister, announced that he will stand in the election, while former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who controls the largest faction in the LDP, is also expected to run. The two senior lawmakers are currently viewed as the leading candidates.

“I am worried about the severe condition of Japan’s economy,” Kamei told his faction in the morning. “The nation needs (a person with) leadership to carry out recovery-oriented policies.”

Kamei, who jointly chairs the party’s third-largest faction, unveiled a campaign pledge later in the day in which he promised tax cuts amounting to several trillion yen through reviews of the income, consumption and inheritance tax systems.

He also promised to study the possibility of temporarily reducing the consumption tax from the current 5 percent to 3 percent for a three-year period to spur personal spending.

Kamei’s move is seen as a bid to maximize his influence and that of his faction after the election and to secure his reappointment as chairman of the LDP’s Policy Affairs Research Council.

It was earlier believed that Kamei’s group, which has 55 members, would support Hashimoto rather than field Kamei himself in the race. In a runoff, the group is widely expected to vote for Hashimoto.

If no candidate wins a simple majority of votes in the first ballot, a runoff between the two top candidates — most likely Hashimoto and Koizumi — will be held immediately following the first round of voting.

Taro Aso, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal reform, has also said that he is eager to join the race and called for the support of other LDP members to attract the 20 nominators needed for a candidate to file a candidacy.

“The most important issue at the moment is the economy,” Aso said. He pledged to have banks’ bad loans disposed of within three years.

Aso, who is willing to launch a “nonfactional” campaign, is expected to ask unaffiliated LDP members for support because his faction, led by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, has only 12 members.

Koizumi, who declared his candidacy Monday, said meanwhile that he will leave his faction, the LDP’s second-largest, after he files his candidacy Thursday morning. Koizumi’s faction is led by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

“I decided to leave the faction to gain support from other party members,” Koizumi told reporters, adding that the other members of the faction said they understand his decision.

After announcing his decision to run, his backers quickly formed a cross-factional group to support him.

Support for Koizumi seems to be growing among unaffiliated LDP members. Three members, including Makiko Tanaka, said Tuesday they will support him and name themselves as nominators.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who belongs to the same faction as Koizumi, supported Koizumi’s idea, saying the party needs to do away with the faction-oriented presidential race. Factional rivalries are expected to heat up even more before the party begins to accept candidacies Thursday morning.

Senior officials of the Hashimoto faction said a consensus is building within the faction around a Hashimoto candidacy, but a final decision to field him for the race is being delayed due to opposition from some junior lawmakers.

The fourth-largest faction, led by Mitsuo Horiuchi, is still pondering whether to field its own candidate or support Hashimoto.

The main ruling party has decided to extend the number of votes to local chapters from one to three for the April 24 race and decrease the number of backers needed for a candidate to file a candidacy from 30 to 20.

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.

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