The political tug-of-war over the government’s postal privatization plan continued Thursday as a senior Liberal Democratic Party official gathered 95 LDP Diet members for a protest meeting.

The gathering was the second organized by Tamisuke Watanuki, a former House of Representatives speaker who is seen as the symbolic leader of those who oppose the privatization drive of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the LDP president.

In the first meeting last month, Watanuki brought together 74 LDP lawmakers, and Diet sources said the increased number at Thursday’s meeting could put more pressure on Koizumi’s Cabinet to rethink the privatization plan, which runs against vested interests held by LDP members in the state-run postal system.

Masahiro Imamura, an LDP member who chaired the meeting, said at the start that 112 party lawmakers had said they would attend.

But it remains to be seen how many of the participants will actually vote against the privatization bills when they are submitted to the Diet later in the legislative session.

The government-sponsored bills would be rejected if 18 LDP House of Councilors members or 43 in the Lower House vote against them. Of Thursday’s 95 participants, 18 were from the Upper House.

The hardliners among the group did not call for Koizumi’s resignation in an outright manner during the meeting. LDP sources said this could have been due to fears that the prime minister could dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election if cornered.

“We’re not staging a campaign to topple the Cabinet,” former LDP policy affairs chief Shizuka Kamei told reporters after the meeting. “It would suffice for Mr. Koizumi to do the right thing in politics.”

Most Lower House LDP members — particularly recently elected junior members — would like to avoid forcing an election since it would mean they would have to spend huge amounts of money to campaign for re-election.

But whether the prime minister himself would opt for a dissolution of the Lower House is unclear, because the LDP could lose seats.

Various media polls have shown that voter interest in postal privatization is relatively low compared with other issues.

“I don’t think he can dissolve the Diet amid a battle with the ruling party,” Watanuki recently told The Japan Times. “That’s absurd.”

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