For 66-year-old former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, the past 2 1/2 years have been filled with betrayal and frustration.
After Koizumi easily won a preliminary round of voting in the 2001 LDP election, Kamei suddenly withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Koizumi as LDP president, expecting that Koizumi would reward him by accepting his economic policy proposals.
But he was mistaken.
Kamei repeatedly put up policy petitions and Koizumi continually shot them down, particularly those for aggressive pump-priming spending to prop up the ailing rural economy.
A former police bureaucrat, Kamei sees himself as a champion of “the weak in society.” He is calling for a massive economic stimulus package of between 30 trillion yen and 50 trillion yen, and wants to ease off on Koizumi’s policy of carrying out strict inspections of ailing financial institutions.
Born in a rural area in northern Hiroshima Prefecture, Kamei began his political career from scratch in 1979, competing against powerful LDP members who had strong organizational backing from business leaders and solid vote-gathering machines.
He conducted street campaigns appealing for direct economic benefits for rural residents. This is probably the starting point of Kamei’s policy stance, which is often described by the media as typical pork-barrel politics.
A quick and bold decision-maker, Kamei has played a key role in a number of major political developments, most notably the establishment of the LDP’s coalition with the rival Social Democratic Party in 1994.
Kamei is now coleader of a 59-member intraparty faction, most of whose members advocate conservative and nationalistic policies. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is a member.
Kamei is also known for criticizing foreign “vulture” funds that he says are targeting Japanese businesses and for his calls for the preservation of Japan’s traditional values.
With his untainted image as a sharp-minded former lawyer, Masahiko Komura has long been regarded as one of the LDP’s future leaders.
He took over a 16-member minor faction led by Toshio Komoto in July 2000, and has served such key government posts as foreign minister, justice minister and director general of the Economic Planning Agency.
The 61-year-old Lower House member is known for his extensive knowledge of foreign affairs. During his tenure as foreign minister under the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the government drew up and enacted laws to implement updated guidelines on cooperation between Japanese and U.S. defense forces.
Komura has criticized Koizumi’s austere fiscal policy, arguing that pump-priming measures to build social infrastructure should come before efforts to regain the fiscal health of the seriously debt-ridden government.
But unlike rival candidate Shizuka Kamei, Komura has not been forthcoming with numerical targets for his fiscal expenditure plan and has not set a target year for the government to achieve primary balance — a condition in which fiscal expenditures excluding debt-servicing costs are fully covered by tax revenues.
Given the small size of his faction, his chances of winning are considered small without support from other major anti-Koizumi factions.
Diet watchers believe the only likely reason that other factions would support Komura is that they see him as being relatively easy to control, making him an attractive candidate to serve as a puppet prime minister — a perception Komura would have to overcome if he won the LDP leadership.
Komura is also a kung fu master, with a third “dan” grade in the martial art.
Takao Fujii, regarded as a future leader of the faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, has emerged as a candidate at a time when the LDP’s largest faction is teetering on the edge of collapse.
Like Lower House members Muneo Suzuki and Fukushiro Nukaga before him, Fujii carries the hopes of the Hashimoto faction, which is jointly run by several veteran lawmakers.
Suzuki is currently being tried on bribery charges and Nukaga has also been tainted with a money-related scandal, making Fujii the faction’s last-remaining trump card.
The 60-year-old lawmaker was employed as a salaried worker for 12 years before becoming secretary to his father, Upper House member Heigo Fujii, in 1977. Fujii is known for his cheerful personality.
His father, who served as vice president of Nippon Steel Corp., exerted considerable influence as a liaison between the business community and conservative politicians.
Fujii was first elected to the Diet in 1981, when he successfully ran in a by-election for the Upper House after his father’s death. In 1993, he won his first seat in the Lower House.
Fujii has criticized Koizumi for being all talk, no action. The prime minister has little substance, just a collection of flashy policy slogans, according to Fujii.
He has pledged to consider boosting the consumption tax rate to cover the government’s plan to increase the state’s burden in supporting the basic public pension scheme. Koizumi has meanwhile repeatedly pledged not to increase the tax rate during his tenure as prime minister.
But like the two other challengers, the main focus of Fujii’s policies appears to be greater fiscal spending to favor small businesses.
Fujii said he will consider compiling a 10 trillion yen stimulus package excluding land procurement costs and other spending that would not generate economic effects.