The internal strife in the Liberal Democratic Party continued Thursday as at least 12 of the party’s prefectural chapters said they would back 18 of the 37 postal privatization opponents in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives election.

The chapters’ decisions defy Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s order as LDP president not to put the rebels on the party ticket.

Officials at LDP chapters in Akita, Yamanashi, Nagano, Gifu, Okayama, Tokushima, Saga and Oita told The Japan Times they would support 13 of the 37 members who voted against the postal privatization bills in the Lower House in July, even if the party’s headquarters does not endorse them.

In addition, the Shizuoka, Shiga, Osaka and Miyazaki chapters plan to back another five anti-Koizumi candidates, according to a Kyodo News survey.

The 18 candidates include veteran politicians who boast strong campaign organizations, including former Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota of Akita, former LDP Executive Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi of Yamanashi, former transport minister Takao Fujii of Gifu and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma of Okayama.

LDP Lower House lawmakers have traditionally had strong support bases in their constituencies, and prefectural chapters sometimes defy party headquarters when selecting election candidates.

However, the revolt of so many LDP chapters before an election is extremely unusual.

“We will give support because we have done so in past elections. There won’t be any changes,” an official at the Yamanashi chapter said.

The Kagoshima chapter of the LDP said it will propose that the party endorse two other rebel candidates. But they are undecided about what course to pursue if the party rejects the ploy.

LDP chapters in more urban areas, however, including Tokyo and Fukuoka, have bowed to pressure from headquarters not to endorse the anti-Koizumi members.

The Tokyo chapter reportedly declined to support former vice finance minister Koki Kobayashi and ex-posts minister Eita Yashiro.

In Kobayashi’s area, the Tokyo No. 10 single-seat constituency, the chapter will campaign for Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, who has been drafted by party leaders to run there.

Some chapters said their decisions were made in accordance with the candidates’ ability to defeat an opposition candidate.

“There was no other person who could beat a Democratic Party of Japan candidate, given the results of the last election,” said Mitsuhiro Kawano, director general of the Oita chapter, which has decided to support Seiichi Eto, who voted against the postal bills last month.

Kawano said the chapter would support Eto even if the party denies him official candidacy and forces him to run as an independent.

LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe had ordered all local chapters to deny support to any of the 37 members who voted against the privatization bills in the Lower House.

But he remained mum Thursday on what measures the party would take to stop the rebellion. Instead, he focused on headquarters’ intent to field an official candidate in every constituency commanded by an antiprivatization rebel.

“In my case, too, many in my election-backing organizations (in my constituency) believe they belong to Takebe’s party (instead of the LDP),” Takebe said at a news conference at party headquarters. “For people in the LDP, human relationships like that are quite important.”

But Takebe also announced the LDP will officially endorse member lawmakers who were absent or who abstained from the Lower House vote, in the upcoming election.

LDP endorsement will be given to 12 of the 14 member lawmakers who were absent or abstained. The other two — former Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura and former trade minister Shinji Sato — have already decided not to run.

“We’ve confirmed they hope to run as LDP candidates. I believe they all agree with the postal privatization and support Prime Minister Koizumi’s structural reform policy,” Takebe said.

The LDP will start procedures to endorse them after confirming they agree with postal reform, he said, adding that initial endorsement will be given only to those who voted for the bills.

Takebe said the upcoming election will be a national plebiscite on postal privatization and it is necessary to field proreform candidates in all constituencies so voters can have clear choices.

Shortly after dissolving the Lower House, Koizumi said that the LDP would not let members who opposed the bills run on its ticket in the Sept. 11 election, and that it would field alternative candidates in their place.

Information from Kyodo added

New farm chief found

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday chose Mineichi Iwanaga, senior vice farm minister, as the new agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister.

The appointment follows the Monday dismissal of Yoshinobu Shimamura for opposing the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

Iwanaga’s promotion apparently constitutes a bid by the prime minister to gain support among farmers in the Sept. 11 general election.

Shimamura was sacked Monday as he refused to sign an Imperial edict for dissolving the lower chamber. Koizumi temporarily doubled as farm minister.

“I’d like to endeavor to improve conditions for food and farming communities in Japan from a broad perspective, with my experience as parliamentary agriculture secretary and senior vice minister,” Iwanaga told reporters.

At his first press conference as farm minister, Iwanaga also said the government should not seek a “political solution” to the question of whether it should promptly remove its U.S. beef import ban.

As the removal of the ban is up to the Food Safety Commission, he said, “I will keep a watch” on deliberations at the panel.

Problems related to the safety of food should not be resolved politically, Iwanaga said.

Japan’s import ban on U.S. beef has been in place since the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003.

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