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Friday, July 21, 2006
Fukuda seen shying from LDP race
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda will not be attending a high-profile panel discussion next week by prospective candidates for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Fukuda's cancellation is fueling speculation that he may not run in the party's September poll, which, because of the LDP's dominance, is also expected to determine who will be the next prime minister.
Four politicians widely considered as prospective candidates, including Fukuda, had planned to attend as panelists at the July 28 meeting to be organized by the LDP's Tokyo chapter.
But party sources said Thursday that Fukuda canceled his attendance, which was reported to a meeting of chapter officials the same day, the sources said.
The other three politicians are front-runner Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who will be overseas and plans to send a video message to the meeting.
"(Fukuda) told (the party branch) he won't attend. The reason was not clearly explained," an LDP source said.
Supporters for Fukuda have urged him to publicly express his plan to run to draw media attention and build support in the party.
But Fukuda has remained silent, disappointing LDP lawmakers who want him to be the next prime minister. He has refused to attend a number of public meetings where he could have discussed his own policy ideas.
The July 28 meeting should have been the first discussion to be attended by all four at once. Policy debates had been expected to take place among the four, thus it had drawn the attention of political observers.
"(Fukuda) should be watching how the situation develops" before deciding whether to run for the LDP presidency, said one LDP member elected from Tokyo.
Fukuda, 70, who advocates friendly relations with China and other parts of Asia, has been the second-most popular candidate after Abe, the 51-year-old conservative hawk, media polls have shown.
Fukuda first canceled a speech at a June 20 meeting of lawmakers who wanted to hear of his diplomatic policies. He then dumbfounded observers by suddenly canceling a meeting with noted political commentators at the last minute on June 26 as photographers waited outside the Tokyo hotel where the meeting was to take place.
"That (cancellation) was no good," said a senior LDP member who is believed to be a Fukuda supporter.
Commentator Hisayuki Miyake said he now believes there is a high likelihood that Fukuda will not run, but quickly added that he has yet to reveal his intentions.
"Even people who want to support (Fukuda) will get tired of supporting him" if he further delays announcing his candidacy, Miyake said.
Meanwhile, a close aide to Fukuda tried to play down the cancellation of the Tokyo panel discussion Thursday, saying Fukuda had intended to discuss his candidacy only after mid-August.
Fukuda is a vocal critic of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
If Koizumi visits the war-related shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, it would outrage China and South Korea and thus may be a factor in the Sept. 20 LDP presidential election.