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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi strongly suggested Friday that he will retain Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda as his top spokesman if, as expected, he is re-elected president of the LDP this weekend.

Koizumi said Fukuda is “a person who cannot be replaced,” when asked by reporters if Fukuda’s continued cooperation in his current position is necessary.

The election takes place Saturday, and Koizumi is likely to form a new Cabinet on Monday.

Fukuda has served as the chief Cabinet secretary — a right-hand man to the prime minister — since October 2000, when he was tapped for the post under then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. He has become the longest serving chief Cabinet secretary in postwar history.

There was speculation that Fukuda might be moved to another Cabinet post, such as foreign minister. But Liberal Democratic Party politicians give him high marks for the job he has done in his current role, and Koizumi apparently wants to keep his close aide as his spokesman.

Fukuda was modest when asked to comment on Koizumi’s apparent intention to keep him on.

“If you raise a specific name among any of the Cabinet ministers,” he said, “(Koizumi) would answer in similar manner. In any case, the LDP presidential race is not over yet, and the prime minister has said he will not talk about personnel until the election is over.”

As for how the political timetables will be filled out after his anticipated victory, Koizumi again suggested that he would likely dissolve the House of Representatives in October and call a snap election the following month.

“It has already passed three years,” Koizumi said in reference to how much of their four-year terms current Lower House members have served. The terms expire next June. “I believe everybody (in the Lower House) is ready for the dissolution.”

There is a rule of thumb in Nagata-cho that Lower House members should be ready for snap elections anytime after three years.

Koizumi dropped the latest hint a day after saying he would deal “flexibly” with the widely held expectation that the house will be dissolved on Oct. 10.

Meanwhile, the government confirmed that its basic stance on dealing with North Korea over the abduction issue will not change under a new Cabinet.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who presided over a bureau-chief level meeting of relevant ministries, said the government held the meeting on the eve of the election because relatives of the abductees have expressed anxieties that the policy may change under a new Cabinet.

At the meeting, the government confirmed that Pyongyang must allow the eight relatives of the five abductees who returned home last year to also come to Japan before normalization talks are resumed, and that Japan will give Pyongyang nothing in return for doing so.

“This policy will not change even if members (of the Cabinet) change,” said Abe, a hardliner on the issue. “We understand the anxiety of the relatives, but we want them to trust the government that we will continue to deal with North Korea along this line.”

Abe has the trust of the families and supporters of the former abductees, who want him to remain in the Cabinet and continue to be in charge of the North Korean issue.

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