Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s chances of being re-elected in the Sept. 20 Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election are high, but he is unlikely to win a landslide victory as he did in the last election due to the new voting system the party has adopted.

In the April 2001 election, Koizumi secured 123 of the 141 local chapter votes. Under that system, each of the LDP’s local chapters was allocated three votes, with the top candidate taking all three votes regardless of the margin of victory.

Under the new rules, adopted in January 2002, local chapter votes will be counted in proportion to the number of votes a candidate receives from party members in each chapter.

The total number of local chapter votes was raised to 300, which breaks down to 141 basic votes — or three votes in each chapter — plus 159 votes allocated in proportion to the number of eligible voters in each chapter.

According to the LDP’s presidential election administration committee, there are 1,402,621 eligible voters nationwide who paid party fees in the past two years.

Based on the number of eligible voters in each chapter, the chapters in Tokyo and Ibaraki will have the largest number of votes, at 10 apiece, while those in Wakayama, Tottori, Tokushima, and Okinawa prefectures will have the smallest, with just four each.

Each of the 357 LDP Diet members will be entitled to a full vote. To win the party presidency, a candidate must win a majority of the combined votes of local chapters and Diet members.

“We changed the rules because the winner-take-all system in the local chapters was unfair to the candidates in second place or below,” according to an LDP official in the election administration committee who requested anonymity.

In the last election, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto won 15 votes and former policy chief Shizuka Kamei captured three. Policy chief Taro Aso received no votes.

If these results were counted under the new rules, Koizumi would still be the top candidate, although his winning margin would decline substantially. The other candidates would meanwhile see their number of votes increase by a factor of three.

“It will be an election with a smaller gap in the number of votes each candidate gets,” the official said.

The LDP also changed the ballot-opening system. In the upcoming election, local chapter votes and Diet members’ votes will be opened at the same time on the day of the election to prevent local chapter results from affecting Diet members’ voting behavior.

In the 2001 election, Koizumi won a landside victory in the local chapter ballot, the results of which were revealed before Diet members cast their votes. Kamei subsequently backed out of the race before Diet members voted.

“Under the previous system, Diet members would be nervous about how the local chapter votes turned out and some would vote against their initial intention,” the official said. “We intend to make it more fair by opening all the ballots at the same time.”

As the new system will be less favorable for Koizumi, the number of Diet member votes he receives will be a key factor in deciding his fate, said Aiji Tanaka, a professor of political science at Waseda University and an expert on the electoral system.

Koizumi can expect at least 100 solid votes from LDP Diet members in factions supportive of him, including the faction led by LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki and the group led by former labor minister Sadatoshi Ozato, which used to be headed by former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato.

The group led by former Foreign Minister Yohei Kono has also decided to back Koizumi.

Most of the 42 Upper House members in the largest faction led by Hashimoto are also likely to vote for Koizumi, while the 51-member faction headed by Mitsuo Horiuchi has decided to leave voting choices in the hands of its individual members.

There are also an additional 19 Diet members who do not belong to any of the factions or groups. These independent votes and how members of the Horiuchi faction cast their ballots are likely to be a decisive factor in the race.

An LDP source close to Mikio Aoki, who leads the Hashimoto faction’s Upper House members and has expressed clear support for Koizumi, said Aoki maintains solid control over junior members.

“At least 40 will support Koizumi,” the source said.

If none of the candidates wins a majority of votes, a runoff would be held, with only Diet members having the right to vote. Candidate Kamei is trying to oust Koizumi by creating a united front with other candidates in the runoff.

“Depending on local chapter votes, the possibility of Koizumi losing in the runoff cannot be ruled out,” Waseda University’s Tanaka said. “But he is likely to be the top candidate, and moves by other candidates to drag down Koizumi in the runoff would look very bad in the eyes of the public.”

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