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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was re-elected head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Saturday, a sweeping victory in a vote by LDP politicians and the party’s local chapters over his three challengers.

The much-anticipated victory gives Koizumi three more years as party president — a position that ensures he remains prime minister due to the LDP’s Lower House majority.

Koizumi told a news conference after his victory that he will name new LDP executives on Sunday and a new Cabinet on Monday.

The four candidates for the party’s presidency battled over a total of 657 votes, 357 of which were cast by LDP politicians and 300 votes allocated to LDP local chapters nationwide.

“This was just one stepping stone for the LDP to become the party for all people,” Koizumi said at LDP headquarters after securing 399 votes — well over the simple majority of 329 that he required. Of his 399 votes, 194 were cast by Diet members while 205 came from local chapters.

“We now have to work harder to win the trust of the people before the upcoming elections for the Lower House and Upper House and remain as the governing party,” Koizumi said.

Former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei came second with 139 votes, 66 Diet member votes and 73 local votes, followed by former Transport Minister Takao Fujii, who secured 65 votes, 50 from fellow politicians and 15 from local chapters. Former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura trailed with 54 votes, 47 from Diet members and seven from local chapters.

Diet members began voting at 2 p.m. Saturday, while some 1.4 million members of local LDP chapters had mailed their votes by Friday. Both ballots were opened at the same time, and Koizumi’s victory was announced shortly after 3 p.m.

Even as far back as Sept. 8, however, when official campaigning kicked off, Koizumi appeared almost certain of victory as support from the LDP’s Diet members gave him close to a majority.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who headed Koizumi’s campaign team, told reporters that local chapter votes were the key factor behind his impressive victory.

“Local party members expressed good judgments and I am moved by that,” Mori said.

But Mori, who has urged Koizumi to seek harmony with his opponents within the LDP rather than confrontation, emphasized that he wants the prime minister to respect different opinions within the party now that the election is over.

Tokyo and Ibaraki prefectures each had 10 local chapter votes, the largest of all prefectures, with Koizumi taking eight in Tokyo and six in Ibaraki.

Even in Hiroshima Prefecture, Kamei’s home prefecture, Koizumi won three out of the nine votes.

According to the LDP, voter turnout among members of its local chapters hit 69.3 percent, the third highest in the party’s history.

Throughout the campaign, Koizumi underlined that his reform agenda — cutting government spending, easing regulations and disposing of banks’ bad loans — is finally starting to produce results, a point backed up by recent improvements in economic indicators.

In sharp contrast, Kamei, Fujii and Komura all called for bold increases in government spending on public works in order to prop up the economy. Their opinions differed on the details, but the bottom line seemed identical, helping Koizumi’s campaign stand out all the more.

The election was not, however, really fought over policies. It was a choice about who should be the “face” of the LDP in the next general election of the House of Representatives, which is likely to take place in November, and the Upper House election scheduled for June.

Many LDP lawmakers and members of the prefectural chapters chose to retain the popular Koizumi at the helm, even if they do not necessarily support his reform policies.

This symbolic pre-electionsupport was best demonstrated by Mikio Aoki, who leads Upper House members of the party’s largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Along with Aoki, some 40 Upper House members of the faction opted to support Koizumi, even though a member of their own faction — Fujii — was running.

Kanezo Muraoka, a senior Lower House member of the Hashimoto faction, was among those to make an about-face and support Koizumi instead of Fujii.

Many in the 51-member faction led by Mitsuo Horiuchi also turned out for Koizumi after the faction failed to field a candidate from its own ranks.

The rumors in Nagata-cho are that these heavyweights decided to support Koizumi because offers of party executive positions or Cabinet posts were dangled in front of them.

“I have promised no post to anyone,” a defiant Koizumi said as he expressed his belief that he would be victorious in front of his supporters shortly before voting began. “I thank you very much for offering me support to continue with my reform drive, even if none of you have guaranteed posts.”

Attention has now shifted to Koizumi’s new Cabinet.

The key question is whether Koizumi will retain Heizo Takenaka, minister in charge of financial services as well as economic and fiscal policy.

Koizumi has hinted on a number of occasions that Takenaka will stay in his Cabinet, saying his cooperation is “indispensable” in pushing through his reforms.

If Takenaka, an economics professor, remains in the Cabinet, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Education Minister Atsuko Toyama — the two other ministers from the private sector — may pay the price and be replaced. Many in the party only want Diet members to hold Cabinet posts.

Koizumi also told his supporters Saturday that he has already asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda — his right-hand man — to remain in the job.

Prior to the Cabinet reshuffle, Koizumi will name new LDP party executives on Sunday. A sticking point is whether Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, Koizumi’s closest ally, will retain his post.

Although Koizumi has expressed his desire to keep Yamasaki in his current position, many LDP members, including those who support Koizumi, are calling for him to be replaced because of his reported extramarital affairs.

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