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Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga is considering running in the Sept. 20 election for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency, a post that likely carries with it the prime ministership, sources said Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who has not yet declared his candidacy, is regarded as the front-runner to win the LDP helm, but the Nukaga camp feels that if the defense chief comes in second place, that will elevate the clout of his party faction.

Mikio Aoki, chairman of the LDP’s Upper House caucus and the most influential supporter for Nukaga, has told the defense chief he is willing to help him run for the LDP helm, but only if all of the Lower House members in the faction to which both he and Nukaga belong stand united to this end, the sources said.

Aoki is a heavyweight in the faction. Most of the 35 Upper Members of the 74-member group are expected to follow Aoki’s decision.

The faction, now led by Lower House veteran Yuji Tsushima, is the second-largest in the LDP. The largest is led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Some in the Tsushima faction, most notably LDP Executive Council Chairman Fumio Kyuma, have been cautious about fielding a candidate because in the 2003 LDP presidential race, the group was deeply split, with one side backing the re-election of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the other supporting Lower House member Takao Fujii.

Some faction members, however, want Nukaga to become LDP chief in order to bolster the group’s influence after the Sept. 20 poll.

Toranosuke Katayama, another key figure in the faction, also indicated Friday he is willing to help Nukaga if his Lower House colleagues in the group do likewise.

“The faction will be able to demonstrate its presence if Nukaga runs and (places second) in an impressive manner,” Katayama said in a speech Friday morning.

Katayama meanwhile admitted Abe is Koizumi’s most likely successor, a situation that probably won’t change before Sept. 20.

Nukaga has told those close to him that he wants to run “if the situation allows,” and told junior members of his faction Thursday of his desire enter the race, the sources said.

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