Junichiro Koizumi, newly elected president of the dominant LDP, broke with tradition Wednesday and awarded the top three party spots to lawmakers outside of the largest faction.
In another sign of Koizumi’s determination to do away with factional politics, he appointed a lawmaker to the party’s No. 2 post who had been ostensibly excommunicated after participating in a failed attempt to oust former president Yoshiro Mori from the prime minister’s seat in November.
Taku Yamasaki, a former party policy chief and longtime friend of Koizumi, returned to the political spotlight as LDP secretary general, the party’s No. 2 post.
Mitsuo Horiuchi, former trade minister, was named chairman of the Executive Council, the party’s top decision-making body. Taro Aso, a contender in the presidential race, was appointed head of the Policy Research Council.
None of the three appointees are from former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s faction, the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest, which has held these posts since the mid-1970s.
Following the appointments, all three said they would leave their factions.
As for the new Cabinet, which may be fully decided today, Koizumi decided to keep Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda as the government’s top spokesman.
Popular lawmaker Makiko Tanaka, Koizumi’s most vocal supporter in the LDP election, is expected to secure another post, possibly as education minister, and one could also go to ex-LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who led the effort to topple Mori in November.
Chikage Ogi, minister for land, infrastructure and transport, and Chikara Sakaguchi, minister for health, labor and welfare, – respectively from New Komeito and New Conservative Party – will likely be reappointed, sources said.
Other names floated as candidates for Cabinet posts include Koji Omi, former chief of the Economic Planning Agency, and Shoichi Nakagawa, former farm minister.
“Many thought that breaking with the LDP’s factionalism is just impossible,” Koizumi said. “But people are starting to see I am really serious about this.”
Perhaps the biggest indication of that seriousness so far is the appointment of Yamasaki, who heads the party’s fifth-largest faction and had been snubbed by party leaders since he joined Kato’s rebellion.
The pair tried to oust Mori by threatening to back a no-confidence motion put to the Diet by the opposition in November.
Speaking at a joint news conference held with the LDP’s two other newly appointed executives, Yamasaki said he will do his utmost to live up to expectations the public and LDP members had for Koizumi during the leadership race.
“To carry out party reforms is the best way to win a victory in the Upper House election (in July),” he said.
Among the reforms he would implement, the former policy chief pointed to building close relations between party headquarters and local chapters.
He also said that he will standardize measures to carry out presidential elections, saying that it is not good to alter rules every time an election is held.
Aso, who firmly opposed Koizumi’s fiscal reform plan in light of the flagging economy, said he agreed to take the post since Koizumi retracted his remark that the nation should endure negative growth.
Aso, however, did not rule out the possibility that the nation may issue government bonds of more than 30 trillion yen in the next fiscal year. Koizumi has pledged to limit the issuance of government bonds to less than 30 trillion yen a year.
“We still don’t know what will happen to the economy in the latter half of the year,” said the 60-year-old Aso. “I cannot make promises at this stage.”
As for Koizumi’s hopes to privatize postal services, Aso said the party will set up a council to deliberate on the idea after they turn into public corporations in 2003.
Koizumi tapped Aso after current Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma was forced by his faction to reject Koizumi’s invitation to take the post.
Takami Eto, who cochairs the 55-strong group together with Shizuka Kamei, told Hiranuma not to accept the Koizumi offer because Eto wanted the new leader to appoint Kamei as party secretary general, LDP sources said.
Horiuchi, who heads the party’s fourth-largest faction and backed Hashimoto in the race, stressed the importance of harmony, suggesting that he will act as a mediator between Koizumi and the party’s conservative bigwigs.
He emphasized the need to carry out Koizumi’s reform plan by breaking down factionalism and making appointments according to ability instead of the number of times elected.
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