Junichiro Koizumi was elected Tuesday as the 20th president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, gaining 298 votes in the initial balloting of the party’s lawmakers.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto received 155 votes, and Taro Aso, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, picked up 31.

A total of 484 valid votes were cast.

Result of LDP presidential election
Diet members’ vote Local votes (Primaries) Total
Junichiro Koizumi 175 123 298
Ryutaro Hashimoto 140 15 155
Shizuka Kamei 3 (3)*
Taro Aso 31 0 31
Total 346 141 487
*Votes cast for Kamei were invalidated when he withdrew.

Shizuka Kamei, who many say entered the race only to gain leverage for his faction in the postelection power structure, withdrew his candidacy Tuesday morning and threw his support behind the victor.

Before he pulled out, it was thought that a runoff would be necessary, but among those voting for Koizumi were 55 members of the party’s third-largest faction, which backs Kamei.

In addition, the fourth-largest faction, led by Mitsuo Horiuchi, which had earlier expressed factionwide support for Hashimoto, decided to allow its members to vote their conscience.

Because the LDP-led coalition dominates the Lower House, Koizumi, a former health minister, is expected to be named prime minister Thursday in the Diet to succeed Yoshiro Mori.

Koizumi’s rivals congratulated him on the victory on Tuesday afternoon.

“His appeal toward party reform won sympathy from party members,” Hashimoto said. “It will be rough from now on but I wish him luck.”

Aso said Koizumi gained support because he was the antithesis of the traditional LDP politician.

Koizumi will be the most able of the four contenders to win swing voters in the Upper House election in July, Aso noted, adding he was satisfied with the more than 30 votes he garnered.

Kamei vowed to fully support the new president, saying he hoped Koizumi will follow through on the policies that the two agreed upon, including the emergency economic package.

After his victory, Koizumi pledged to change the party so its members can feel pride and tell others they are among those who are “reforming the nation toward a new era.”

But doubts over Koizumi’s leadership arose Monday, when he decided, in an about-face, to fill the top three LDP posts before the Diet names him prime minister.

Taku Yamasaki, former head of the LDP’s policy council and longtime comrade of Koizumi, is widely be lieved to be the front-runner to take the secretary general post, sources said.

Kamei, who had reportedly coveted that post, said Tuesday morning he has no intention of becoming a party executive or Cabinet minister.

In announcing his withdrawal from the race, he threw his support behind Koizumi after noting the two candidates agreed on various policies, including the immediate introduction of the government’s emergency economic package.

But he also appears to be positioning himself and the party for the Upper House elections.

“We cannot win a victory in the Upper House election by ignoring the intention of local party members who will make up the core of the election campaign staff,” Kamei said.

As for Koizumi, he has already backed off his first stand that he would not make any policy agreements with the LDP’s coalition partners — New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — until after he is elected prime minister so he could call for support from the opposition.

But the leadership of the two coalition parties — although welcoming Koizumi’s victory — immediately protested, saying they cannot back Koizumi in the Diet if they are unable to first agree on a platform.

It took several senior members of the Mori faction, to which Koizumi belonged until two weeks ago, to persuade the new leader to drop the plan and meet with the party leaders by today to discuss the coalition’s policy pact.

New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki said he is eager to discuss policies to maintain the coalition under Koizumi.

“There are various opinions within the LDP. (The party’s) flexibility accounts for the LDP maintaining political power,” Kanzaki told reporters after the first meeting with Koizumi as party president. “When it comes to policy consultations, we will have to respond flexibly.”

Chikage Ogi, leader of the New Conservative Party, said she was still unsure whether Koizumi intends to keep the coalition, adding that it can only exist when the three parties’ leaders agree on policies.

Meanwhile, Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said he will closely watch whether Koizumi is able to reform the LDP.

He admitted that the public may have more difficulty searching for a distinction between the two parties, since Koizumi’s campaign arguments were close to the DPJ’s policy platform.

Koizumi’s election victory marks the first time that the LDP has crowned a president without the backing of the party’s largest faction. The No. 1 faction, led by Hashimoto, has controlled party politics since the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was in office in the early 1970s.

The influence of the faction is expected to shrink as ex-LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka — often called the kingmaker — expressed his intention Monday to quit from both party and factional helms to take the blame for Hashimoto’s defeat.

Although Hashimoto was earlier considered the front-runner in the race, it became clear Koizumi was headed for a landslide win in local primary elections.

The final outcome of those elections had Koizumi with 123 votes, or nearly 90 percent of the 141 local votes up for grabs, Hashimoto with 15 and Kamei with three. Aso received none.

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