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Saturday, July 29, 2006

'Koizumi's children' no longer

New lawmakers finding own paths among LDP factions


Staff writer

"Koizumi's children" are making their ways out of the nest and into the factionalized world of the Liberal Democratic Party.

News photo
JUNIOR LAWMAKER Taizo Sugimura speaks at the Liberal Democratic Party's 50th anniversary convention in Tokyo last November. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The 82 junior LDP lawmakers, considered the new face of the party and the darlings of the media -- who gave the group their name -- are no longer a cohesive body. Some have joined factions, against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's strong urgings, and others have formed what they call "an antifaction" group.

The LDP gained 83 junior lawmakers in last September's general election. They formed the "83-kai" group soon afterward to hold discussions and other events. One lawmaker has since resigned.

Since then, nearly half of them have joined factions.

"I'm glad that I joined a faction," said Kenji Wakamiya, one of the freshmen elected in September.

"I think that it is fine for people not to join factions, too. But I wanted to hear real stories from veteran politicians . . . to hear the truth behind the stories (about factions) I read in the newspapers or saw on TV."

The LDP has ruled Japan for decades through the complex and often antagonistic tangle of factions.

Factions are like families: They help their members run their election campaigns, give out money and can influence the choices for ministerial posts.

The factions' ultimate goal is to have its leader elected as party president, which, because of the majority the party typically has in the House of Representatives, includes the prime ministership.

However, the factions have weakened significantly since the abolition of multiseat electoral system in 1996, in which two or more LDP candidates -- usually from rival factions -- compete against each other in the same district.

Koizumi's public and private opposition to the factions also has lessened their hold over the party.

"I think Prime Minister Koizumi is strongly against factions for what they used to be," Wakamiya said. "In the past, factions led to battles for power and to corruption. . . . I believe the prime minister wants us to make our own decisions and not live in an era when we must do whatever the boss tells us to do."

Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University, said that even though factions aren't what they used to be, they are still a good way for lawmakers to stay in the party's information loop.

However, 37 of the new lawmakers decided to form a group of a different kind in June.

Members of the antifaction group have agreed not to join factions -- at least until after the LDP's presidential election -- said Jiro Ono, the group founder. This is so they don't fall prey to faction pressure to vote a certain presidential candidate.

"Personally, I would like to maintain my status as a nonfaction member even after the election," Ono said. "That is because I believe that my promise to the people who voted for me was that I would choose what bills should be passed or who to vote for as president without any constraints."

The group issued a statement in June saying it wants a new leader who is enthusiastic about structural and party reform -- without mentioning any names.

Ono, who has been a secretary to Koizumi, said the prime minister has been popular because of his opposition to the faction system.

"When Mr. Koizumi became president, he said he would destroy the LDP, but on the contrary he actually saved it," Ono said. "The reason why I decided to run for the LDP was because (Koizumi) had changed the LDP from a faction-based party to one that appeals directly to the public."

Koizumi's strategy in last September's election was to back candidates who had great public appeal and those he thought he could convince not to join a faction.

Former bureaucrat Satsuki Katayama, Kuniko Inoguchi, a former university professor and ambassador, and economist Yukari Sato are three of his successful picks who often appear in the media. These media darlings have not joined any factions.

Katayama, a former high-ranking Finance Ministry official, proudly posts on her Web site that Koizumi asked her to be the "madonna of reform." She is extremely popular and has been on a number of TV programs, including a variety show presented by Masahiro Nakai from the J-pop group SMAP.

Nowadays, however, the new lawmakers don't like to lumped together, said Masatada Tsuchiya, the chairman of 83-kai.

"The members are so diverse that it is harder to find a specific professional background that is not included," Tsuchiya said. The members include journalists, housewives, lawyers, doctors and academics.

"When people's backgrounds and ages vary, it is natural to have a diversity of opinions," he said.

Wakamiya said he and many of his colleagues do not want to be called Koizumi's children.

"It is true that the power of Prime Minister Koizumi helped the 83 of us get elected, but we come from all sorts of backgrounds and have diverse visions," Wakamiya said.

"From now on, each of us should have our own direction within the framework of the LDP and not be unified as one. . . . After all, we are not children."



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