Shigeru Ishiba, minister in charge of regional revitalization, met with several followers Thursday for preparatory talks on launching his own faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party by the end of this month.

The participants included former vice finance minister Yoshihisa Furukawa, former financial services minister Yuji Yamamoto and former environment minister Ichiro Kamoshita. The three are expected to become executives within the faction.

After Thursday’s meeting, one of Ishiba’s key followers said they expected about 20 members to join the planned group, which would make it the sixth-largest of the LDP’s eight factions.

“I’m happy to be in a faction that will try to make its head the president (of the LDP) and thereby prime minister,” one of the members said, speaking at the Lower House lawmakers’ office building in Tokyo. “I’m really excited.”

Facing reporters on Wednesday, Ishiba said he is launching the group with the aim of succeeding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as LDP president. Abe’s term as party leader ends in September 2018.

Ishiba was Abe’s primary rival in the 2012 LDP presidential election and since then has been regarded as a potential successor.

The 58-year-old is widely known for his thorough knowledge of military affairs and agricultural policy. He is also respected for his debating skills on highly technical topics.

Ishiba did not throw his hat into this year’s LDP presidential race, in which Abe won a second term on Tuesday unchallenged and without the need for a vote.

It is thought that Ishiba decided to launch a faction now to raise his profile as he prepares to bid for higher office.

In the first round of voting in the LDP presidential election in September 2012, Ishiba proved far more popular among rank-and-file LDP members than Abe, winning 199 ballots against Abe’s 141.

But in the run-off vote, which was conducted by Diet members, Abe, who enjoyed the support of major factions within the parties, beat Ishiba with 108 votes to Ishiba’s 89.

By launching a faction, Ishiba lays himself open to criticism because he himself used to be known for criticizing lawmakers for their alignment with factions and participation in power struggles within the LDP.

Many core members of Ishiba’s own group are expected to be former members of “Muhabatsu Renraku Kai” (Nonfactional Liaison Society), a liaison group formed to link individuals who were not members of factions.

The group was often regarded as a quasi-faction that supported Ishiba, although he and its members denied this.

On Thursday, Furukawa told reporters that Muhabatsu Renraku Kai was disbanded on Tuesday, and that “a clear line has been drawn” between the now-defunct group and Ishiba’s own faction.

“We are now forming a policy group to carry out policies advocated by Mr. Ishiba,” said Furukawa, the spokesman for Ishiba’s followers.

A senior government official close to Abe criticized Ishiba, pointing out Ishiba’s previous criticism of factions.

“It makes no sense that a nonfactional society was disbanded only to evolve into a faction,” the official said.

Staff writer Mizuho Aoki also contributed to this report

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