The odds are getting better that former transport minister Takao Fujii will run in the LDP’s upcoming presidential election, party sources said Monday.

He will likely be backed by House of Representatives members who belong to an intraparty faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

However, the faction’s members in the House of Councilors, led by LDP heavyweight Mikio Aoki, remain opposed to fielding anybody as an official faction candidate, the sources said.

The 100-member Hashimoto faction, the party’s largest, has 58 members in the Lower House and 42 in the Upper House.

Aoki has consistently opposed fielding a faction candidate to challenge Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the Sept. 20 voting because he hopes to take advantage of Koizumi’s continuing popularity in the triennial election of the Upper House, to be held next summer.

But many other faction leaders in the Lower House have been trying to unite behind a single candidate to challenge Koizumi, saying his austere economic policy must be changed.

Executives of the Hashimoto faction held a meeting Monday, in which they asked Fujii and Takashi Sasagawa, who has also expressed readiness to throw his hat in the ring, to discuss among themselves which of the two will run, the sources said.

Sasagawa reportedly indicated to the gathering he is ready to refrain from entering the race to ease the way for Fujii.

Fujii and Sasagawa are expected to make a final decision Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Akihiko Kumashiro, a Lower House member of the faction who has also expressed he is ready to run, effectively dropped out of the race.

He told faction leaders he wanted to build support not only from faction members but also from outside the faction, a proposal that was rejected by the leaders.

“That’s not a thing to be discussed by the faction. We asked him to leave the room,” a senior faction leader said.

Kumashiro has been unable to obtain support from 20 party members, a minimum requirement for entering the leadership race.

Senior leaders of the faction are expected to make a final decision after hearing the result of the Fujii-Sasagawa talks. A general meeting of all faction members is to be held Tuesday afternoon.

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