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Tuesday’s start of campaigning for the Sept. 11 Lower House election marked the beginning of fierce battles not only among party leaders but also candidates under the spotlight.

These include the “assassins” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has fielded in several single-seat districts to run against rebels from the Liberal Democratic Party who voted against his postal privatization bills.

In the Hiroshima No. 6 district, Shizuka Kamei, 68, a renegade former LDP heavyweight running on the Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) ticket, is in a faceoff with Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie, 32, who is running as an independent in support of Koizumi’s reforms.

Horie, who rocked Japan’s business community this year by launching a takeover battle for Nippon Broadcasting Inc. in a bid to control the Fujisankei media group, decided Aug. 19 to run in the election, praising Koizumi’s postal privatization drive and his “reformist spirit.”

The two candidates made speeches Tuesday morning in the same venue. When Kamei blasted Koizumi in the city of Onomichi for his “politics of force,” referring to the tactics the prime minister used to oust the rebels from the LDP, Horie, just several hundred meters away, shouted, “I’m determined to fight tooth and nail against politicians who have delayed reforms.”

In the Tokyo No. 10 district, Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, 53, widely seen as one of the female “assassins,” told a crowd in Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward, “I’m here to stop (antireformers) from derailing the reforms.”

But a man in his 40s said Koike, along with the other female candidates Koizumi has recruited to take on his party’s postal rebels, appears to be nothing but a puppet.

Koki Kobayashi, 61, a postal rebel facing a tough battle against Koike, tried to employ logic similar to Kamei’s.

“We are in a situation that when the man in power says ‘turn right,’ we must turn right. This is rule by terror,” he said outside his election office.

In the Gifu No. 1 district, former posts minister Seiko Noda, 45, who is also a renegade LDP lawmaker now running as an independent, is trying to fend off a challenge from Koizumi-backed economist Yukari Sato, 44.

Noda has a strong foothold in the district, with the local LDP chapter supporting her candidacy in defiance of party headquarters.

“I have no choice but to win,” Noda told supporters. In the shopping district in Gifu, meanwhile, Sato told voters, “I’ve been sent here by Prime Minister Koizumi to realize the passage of the postal bills.”

Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, an ex-LDP Lower House member making her second run as an independent, said, “Mr. Koizumi has been chasing out people he doesn’t like right and left.

“I was the first one chased out, and I believe only people who really want to work should get on the political stage,” Tanaka, 61, told a crowd at JR Nagaoka Station in Niigata Prefecture.

In the race for Fukuoka’s No. 2 district, former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki, 68, is competing against the same four candidates who ran in the by-election for the constituency four months ago.

“There are many things concerning Mr. Yamasaki, but I think he’s a politician who is necessary in Fukuoka,” a 60-year-old local woman said.

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