The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Monday officially readmitted 11 of the lawmakers kicked out of the party last year for opposing postal privatization, its key reform.

The “postal reform rebels” submitted a written request seeking readmission to the LDP last week and were welcomed back into the fold by the party’s ethics committee with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s blessing.

“I expect there may be strong opposition against the rebels rejoining the party,” Abe told reporters afterward.

He said he would seek the public’s understanding by achieving his policy goals with the help of the rebels.

The rebels also submitted a written pledge to adhere to the LDP’s campaign promises, including postal privatization, and to obey party rules.

Although 12 lawmakers had sought readmission, former economy and trade minister Takeo Hiranuma’s bid was not considered because he did not sign the pledge, which he called “humiliating.”

Takashi Sasagawa, chairman of the ethics committee, said the vote was unanimous.

“I believe that politicians, along with the public, deserve a second chance, as Prime Minister Abe has been stressing,” Sasagawa said, citing Abe’s policy to provide opportunities for people who have failed in business.

The 11 lawmakers who were readmitted are Taku Eto, Yoshihisa Furukawa, Keiji Furuya, Kosuke Hori, Mitsuo Horiuchi, Takeshi Hosaka, Masahiro Imamura, Hiroshi Moriyama, Seiko Noda, Ryota Takeda and Shunichi Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi expressed joy after the decision was handed down in the evening.

“I feel refreshed now that Abe said welcome back to us,” he said.

Recent media reports, however, have shown that a majority of the public is against the readmission.

Noda said: “I would like the public to evaluate me for what I am going to do in the future, as opposed to looking at the past.”

The ethics committee also decided to lift the punishment imposed on 18 Upper House members who voted against postal reform last year.

Their membership in the LDP was suspended for a year with a two-year suspension before implementing the punishment, or told that they would not be able to hold executive posts in the party for a year with a two-year suspension. This means that the 18 lawmakers have not received any actual punishment.

In August 2005, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the Lower House after 37 LDP lawmakers, including the 11 readmitted lawmakers, voted against his postal privatization legislation.

Koizumi refused to allow the postal rebels on the LDP ticket for the Sept. 11 Lower House election and chose high-profile candidates, dubbed “assassins,” to run against them. After the election, he expelled all 37 from the party.

When postal privatization was resubmitted to the Diet during an extraordinary session in September 2005, the 11 lawmakers reversed their position and voted for the legislation.

Last week, the rebels attempted to explain their flip-flop, telling reporters they were not against the privatization bill as such but instead objected to the way Koizumi forced the legislation through without approval from the party members.

Their return has sparked criticism within the party, especially among the freshmen who ran against the rebels last year.

They are now in an awkward position with the rebels back in the party and have repeatedly warned that the LDP could lose the public’s trust by allowing them to rejoin.

The “assassins” include economist Yukari Sato and Jiro Ono, a former secretary to Koizumi.

The next task for the LDP will be to find places in the single-seat districts in the next Lower House election for both the rebels and the “assassins.”

LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa said who will be the “official” candidates in the next Lower House election is still “blank” and the issue needs to be discussed thoroughly.

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