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Hiromu Nonaka, a heavyweight in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a vocal opponent of postal deregulation, said Friday that he will not obstruct the passage of the bills through the Lower House in the current Diet session.

Nonaka is a leader of the state-run postal service’s political lobby, and his dramatic about-face is seen as a sign that the LDP is softening its stance on postal service deregulation.

During Friday’s meeting of the LDP’s Executive Council, Nonaka, who had been adamantly opposed to the bills, announced that he plans to convey his intention to back the bills to a gathering of post office chiefs to be held in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture on Saturday.

At one time, passage of postal services legislation seemed unlikely, given the sharp divisions between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had made the changes a key plank of his reform program, and the LDP.

The LDP, whose largest support group comprises retired chiefs of post offices, voiced concern that the quality of postal services might deteriorate should private firms be allowed to enter the industry.

Friday’s remarks came a day after Nonaka, who is backed by post office chiefs nationwide, first expressed his policy shift and began to nudge the ruling party to start Diet deliberation of the bills.

On Thursday, Nonaka called on LDP politicians who remain skeptical of the proposed changes to pass the bills, aimed at liberalizing the government-run mail, savings and insurance services.

The bills should at least make it through the House of Representatives in the current Diet session, scheduled to end on June 19, Nonaka reportedly told lawmakers.

His policy shift is widely seen as a compromise so that members of the LDP faction Nonaka belongs to — the largest and often dubbed the “resistance force” by Koizumi — can gain more executive posts in the LDP if the prime minister reshuffles his Cabinet after the current Diet session.

LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki welcomed Nonaka’s move.

“The move, initiated by Mr. Nonaka, is important, as the party began to work toward the passage of the legislation,” Yamasaki told a news conference. “I greatly appreciate his effort.”

Meanwhile, Koizumi, a strong advocate of postal services privatization, expressed his determination to ensure full Diet passage of the four bills in the current session.

“I will ensure that private firms can offer mail services even if the LDP strongly opposes to it,” Koizumi told reporters.

Posts minister Toranosuke Katayama also expressed his fervent hope that the four bills will pass during the current session.

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