A senior official of the Liberal Democratic Party faction headed by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said Thursday that, if chosen as new party chief, Hashimoto will retain two of the party’s current top executives.

The move is widely seen as an effort to boost Hashimoto’s bid for the LDP’s presidency by seeking support from factional groups to which the party executives belong.

Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general and a top member of the Hashimoto faction, the LDP’s largest, indicated to reporters that LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei would continue in his post if Hashimoto wins. Kamei himself is one of the four candidates in the race.

On Wednesday, Nonaka also effectively promised that Makoto Koga would remain LDP secretary general under Hashimoto’s leadership, after he obtained the backing of Koga’s faction — led by former trade chief Mitsuo Horiuchi — for Hashimoto.

Nonaka’s remarks come as media forecasts show Hashimoto may be trailing main rival Junichiro Koizumi in local votes, which account for about 30 percent of the total 487 votes to be cast in the election on Tuesday.

In the LDP election, Hashimoto, Koizumi, Kamei and Taro Aso, minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, are competing to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

But as the election is expected to come down to a two-way race between Hashimoto and Koizumi, Nonaka’s remarks are apparently designed to secure cooperation from other factions, especially Kamei’s group, which could hold the key to the final results.

Media surveys show that Koizumi, who claims wide popular appeal for his reformist proposals, could capture a majority of the 141 votes allocated to the LDP’s 47 prefectural chapters.

Of the 346 votes by the party’s Diet members, Hashimoto, who controls a 101-member faction, has already obtained support from the 43-member Horiuchi faction. Koizumi, meanwhile, is backed by the party’s second-largest faction, led by Mori with 59 members, plus the groups of his longtime allies Koichi Kato, with 15 members, and Taku Yamasaki, with 23 members.

According to current forecasts, neither Hashimoto nor Koizumi is expected to win an overall majority of the 487 votes, which will necessitate a runoff between the two leading candidates. In that event, the backing of the 55-member Eto-Kamei group, which will vote for Kamei in the first round, will be crucial.

Nonaka said he hopes Hashimoto, if elected, will keep the top party executives unchanged because the 150-day regular Diet is still in session and the party needs to prepare for the Upper House election in July.

Koizumi was quick to criticize Nonaka for trying to win votes for Hashimoto by offering promises of post-election posts.

“That’s the same old factional logic. We must change that trend,” he said while canvassing in Fukuoka.

Kamei also expressed displeasure over Nonaka’s comments.

“We shouldn’t be talking about personnel matters right now,” he said. “It hasn’t been decided who the next party leader will be. It will be up to the next party president.”

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