Mitsuo Horiuchi, who heads one of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s major factions, said Sunday he will support Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s re-election as party chief if Koizumi changes his economic policies.

“The reason I criticize the government’s economic policy so severely is that I am prepared to fully support Prime Minister Koizumi if he changes his economic policy,” Horiuchi, who also serves on the party’s decision-making Executive Council, said in a speech in Tokyo.

Koizumi’s current term as LDP chief expires at the end of September. The party is scheduled to hold an election Sept. 20.

Horiuchi’s remarks suggest differences of opinion among senior lawmakers in his LDP faction. Fellow group member Makoto Koga, former secretary general of the party, has indicated the faction is considering fielding a candidate to challenge Koizumi.

Senior members of the Horiuchi faction are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss how to deal with the LDP presidential election.

In his presentation at a workshop for LDP members nationwide, Horiuchi expressed support for the course the prime minister is taking in his overall structural reform plans, but suggested something is lacking.

But Horiuchi reiterated his strong criticism of economic and fiscal policy minister Heizo Takenaka and expressed hope he would be replaced.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, speaking in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, reiterated that Koizumi should be re-elected as LDP chief uncontested.

“Mr. Koizumi still claims 50 percent to 60 percent popular approval ratings,” Mori told a gathering of LDP Upper House members.

“We should not try to challenge him now in a way that could lead to divisions within the party.”

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