Former health minister Junichiro Koizumi and former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto began shaping their campaign policies Wednesday in the runup to the April 24 Liberal Democratic Party election.

Koizumi made promises to to restrain government bond issues while Hashimoto hinted he would ease back on his pursuit of fiscal austerity policies.

Various factions in the party, which will begin accepting candidates for the presidential election this morning, are jockeying to field possible successors to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who is the current president.

Besides Koizumi and Hashimoto, LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei has announced his candidacy for the race, while Taro Aso, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, is expected to run with the endorsement of two small factions.

During a news conference announcing his campaign platform, Koizumi vowed to break down the party’s traditional faction-based politics and consider revising the Constitution so the prime minister would be chosen via popular vote.

Choosing a prime minister by popular vote, Koizumi said, would effectively eliminate the factional politics rampant within the LDP. He declared that he would resign from the Mori faction today and no longer be affiliated with any group.

“The purpose of this election is to change (faction-oriented politics),” Koizumi said. “When LDP members really believe the party should change, my chance of winning (the race) will increase.”

Koizumi, who nominally heads the Mori faction, said he would not readily reshuffle Cabinet positions while he serves as prime minister, preferring that ministers be able to draw up long-term policies.

Addressing his pet campaign to privatize the state-run postal services, Koizumi stressed the policy is not meant to abolish post offices but rather to expand the scope of their business to better meet consumers’ needs.

Many LDP lawmakers oppose the proposal because it could antagonize rural post office executives, who provide organized votes to the LDP in elections. Koizumi pledged to restore the government’s fiscal health by limiting the issuance of government bonds to cover expenses to less than 30 trillion yen a year — a target he claims is quite reasonable.

At the same time, Koizumi denied that he would pursue across-the-board cuts in government spending, saying that he would make room for spending where it is deemed necessary.

Economic policy is one of the key issues in the race, as Kamei, who announced his intention to stand on Tuesday, promised to consider major tax cuts, including temporarily returning the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 3 percent.

Hashimoto, who as prime minister oversaw the consumption tax increase to 5 percent in 1997, indicated in a gathering of junior members of his faction Wednesday evening that he would not return to his earlier policy of fiscal austerity.

He is expected to win official endorsement for his candidacy from the faction, which is the largest within the LDP with 102 members.

Hashimoto stepped down as prime minister after the LDP took a beating in the 1998 Upper House election when voters criticized his austerity drive. In Wednesday’s talks with factional colleagues, Hashimoto reportedly admitted that he “had erred in the timing” of his past economic policies.

The election is now expected to be a four-way race, with the factional power balance apparently carrying considerable weight. Koizumi’s faction — the LDP’s second-largest grouping — comprises 60 Diet members, while Kamei jointly chairs the No. 3 faction, which has 55 members.

Aso, who belongs to a small group led by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, won support Wednesday from another minor faction led by Justice Minister Masahiko Komura.

Meanwhile, Mitsuo Horiuchi, who heads the LDP’s fourth-largest faction, decided Wednesday night that he would not join the election. His group is now expected to vote for Hashimoto.

A total of 487 ballots will be cast in the election, including 141 votes from the LDP’s local chapters.

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