Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s chances for re-election as chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have gotten even better, with another major intraparty faction moving to allow its members to decide who to vote for in the Sept. 20 race.

The 51-member faction led by party Executive Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi gave up Friday on forming a consensus among its members on who to support.

Horiuchi had earlier said he will vote for Koizumi, and some other members are expected to follow suit.

The Horiuchi faction has been deeply divided between those members supporting Koizumi and others seeking to field former health minister Yuya Niwa, a senior member of the faction.

Meanwhile, an 11-member group led by former Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said it supports Koizumi’s re-election.

Koizumi, whose term as LDP chief expires at the end of the month, has now secured seemingly solid support from about 150 of the party’s 357 Diet members eligible to vote, while his opponents remain split.

Former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, who leads a 16-member faction, announced his candidacy Friday, saying he has secured endorsement from 20 LDP lawmakers as required by election rules.

Now in addition to Komura, former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei and former transport minister Takao Fujii are set to resister their candidacies Monday, when campaigning for the party election officially kicks off.

But while Kamei has the support from the faction he coleads, a 100-member faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, of which Fujii is a member, is sharply divided.

A 59-member faction led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a 27-member faction led by LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki and a 14-member faction formerly led by Koichi Kato have expressed support for Koizumi.

In addition, most of the 42 House of Councilors members in the Hashimoto faction, plus many in the Horiuchi faction, are expected to vote for Koizumi.

In the election, the votes from 357 Diet members of the LDP, plus 300 votes allocated to the party’s local chapters, will be counted. If Koizumi fails to win a majority vote, a runoff will be held in which only the party’s Diet members will be allowed to vote.

Many LDP lawmakers now have rushed to express support for Koizumi’s re-election despite their complaints about the prime minister’s austere reform drive, apparently hoping to take advantage of his still strong popularity during the upcoming Diet elections.

Indeed, most members of the Horiuchi faction oppose Koizumi’s fiscal policy, but they fear that they could lose both in the party race and their own Diet elections, faction members said.

A triennial Upper House election is scheduled for next summer, and a general election of the Lower House must be held by June.

During a news conference Friday, a grim-faced Niwa admitted that the attitude of those supporting Koizumi “has been twisted” since they are doing so merely because they fear losing their Diet seats.

Mikio Aoki, secretary general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus who also heads the chamber’s 42 Hashimoto faction members, declared his support for Koizumi on Thursday.

But Aoki and his allies are among the most staunch opponents to privatization of postal services and expressway-building public corporations — both key reform policies of Koizumi.

Many House of Councilors members of the LDP are former bureaucrats representing the interests of their ministries or are originally from industry association groups. They are often criticized as the old guard of vested interests — supposedly the No. 1 target of Koizumi’s administrative reform drive.

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