The largest faction of the Liberal Democratic Party remains paralyzed as it struggles to find a successor to its scandal-tainted former leader, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
The 82-member-strong Heisei Kenkyukai, or Heisei Study Group, did not meet Thursday. All LDP factions usually hold general meetings at noon Thursday while the Diet is in session — a tradition that helps confirm members’ loyalty.
This is an indication of the inertia that has gripped the group, once a dominating force in the nation’s political arena, since Hashimoto stepped down as leader on July 30 amid allegations that he received a covert 100 million yen donation from the Japan Dental Association.
Instead, a small group of faction executives from the House of Representatives gathered for an unofficial meeting, but members were unable to touch upon the critical question of finding a new leader, participants said.
“No, we didn’t discuss who should be the new chairman,” said former LDP policy chief Fukushiro Nukaga as he emerged from the meeting at the faction’s office in Nagata-cho.
Yuji Tsushima, the faction’s director general, avoided waiting reporters by leaving the building through a back door.
In addition to the donation scandal, which has also touched other faction executives, the group is reeling from being given the cold shoulder by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in last month’s reshuffle of Cabinet and party posts.
Such developments have further weakened Heisei Kenkyukai’s cohesive power, which was loosened last year when members were split between those supporting Koizumi’s re-election as LDP president and anti-Koizumi lawmakers who backed Takao Fujii, the faction’s rising star.
Some faction members, including heavyweights Tamisuke Watanuki and Hosei Norota, plan to launch a policy group next week to oppose Koizumi’s postal privatization plan, triggering speculation that it could develop into a splinter group.
Political insiders say Koizumi might derive the most satisfaction out of the faction’s decline, if not effective breakup.
Asked earlier this month about the opposition parties’ demand that Hashimoto be summoned to give sworn testimony on the scandal in the Diet, Koizumi said the former prime minister should explain the matter to the public.
The unusually candid comment prompted many LDP lawmakers to suspect Koizumi is hoping Hashimoto will take the witness stand, which would deal another heavy blow to the former prime minister and Heisei Kenkyukai.
The faction, whose roots go back to a group founded by the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, has been the long-standing rival of the LDP group headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, to which Koizumi belonged before becoming prime minister.
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