An LDP heavyweight who is throwing his support behind Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s re-election has an ulterior motive: the party regaining its majority in the House of Councilors.

By backing the prime minister, Mikio Aoki, who is secretary general of the party’s Upper House caucus, has effectively split the votes of the LDP’s largest faction.

Aoki is also a leader of the 42 Upper House members of the 100-member faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general, and other senior leaders of the Hashimoto faction had been intent on fielding a candidate to challenge Koizumi in the Sept. 20 party presidential race. But Aoki appeared to place more emphasis on the LDP’s chance of winning the triennial Upper House election next summer by riding on the still strong popularity of the prime minister.

During a TV interview late last month, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said, “Now we have a basis to win the Upper House election next year. For the first time in 14 or 15 years, we may be able to win a majority (in the upper chamber).

“The Upper House election next year is vitally important. I’m not saying this because some people like or dislike Mr. Koizumi.”

Mori, who also supports Koizumi’ re-election as LDP president, was talking about the nightmare of 1989, when the party suffered a crushing defeat in the Upper House election. Voters rebelled then against the widely unpopular consumption tax just introduced by the LDP-led government and were put off by the Recruit Co. stock-for-favors scandal that had implicated a number of LDP leaders.

The LDP has since been unable to regain a majority in the Upper House.

The party can still go its own way in Diet elections of prime ministers and Diet approval of budget packages, for which the Lower House holds supremacy. But it must ask for cooperation from other parties in the Upper House to enact major legislation.

The Hashimoto faction suffered its own nightmare in 1998, when the opposition-dominated Upper House passed a nonbinding censure motion against then Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga over a procurement scandal involving agency bureaucrats. Nukaga, who was once considered a future potential leader of the faction, was subsequently forced to resign from the Cabinet.

The LDP subsequently formed a coalition with the Liberal Party, and later with New Komeito. This coalition eventually changed into the current tripartite alliance of the LDP, New Komeito and New Conservative Party.

“The passage of the censure motion was particularly serious,” a senior LDP member said recently. “We formed a coalition with New Komeito and NCP for the sake of the House of Councilors, not for the House of Representatives, where we’ve retained a majority.”

For Aoki, whose source of power lies in his Upper House faction, Koizumi emerged as a savior of the LDP’s weakening grip in the chamber when he was elected LDP chief and prime minister in April 2001.

Three months after Koizumi’s inauguration, the LDP won 64 seats in an Upper House election, exceeding the 60-seat mark for the first time in nine years. The success has been solely attributed to the enormous popularity of Koizumi.

The LDP now has 116 seats in the 247-seat Upper House, still short of a single-party majority. It has 244 seats in the 480-seat Lower House.

Aoki has “greatly thanked Koizumi for regaining some seats in the previous House of Councilors election. It’s only natural for him as secretary general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus,” Nonaka said Sunday in a television interview.

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