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Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Junior LDP ranks cool to readmitting reform foes

Staff writer

A group of freshmen lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party began collecting signatures Thursday for a petition asking the party to think twice about welcoming back some of the postal reform "rebels" who voted against former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization bill last year.

Jiro Ono, a newly elected LDP lawmaker and Koizumi's former secretary, said more than 20 signatures had been collected by Thursday.

The readmission of the postal reform foes "is an issue that could cost the political lives of (some freshmen) politicians," Ono said.

Out of 84 first-term LDP lawmakers, 57 met Thursday to discuss whether the party should let the rebels back in. But many had to leave in the middle of the meeting for other engagements, Ono said.

He told reporters after the meeting that most of the participants were against a sudden massive influx of rebels.

"This issue is a fundamental factor why the general public heavily supported the LDP in last year's general election," Ono said, adding some people at the meeting argued strongly that welcoming the rebels back would be a betrayal of public trust.

In September 2005, then Prime Minister Koizumi had the LDP withdraw its support in the Lower House general election from the 37 party lawmakers who opposed his postal reforms.

He also backed high-profile "assassins" -- candidates thought likely to defeat them at the polls. Taking the rebels back in would put the newly elected members in an awkward position for the next poll.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Tuesday he is considering allowing some postal privatization foes back into the LDP.

Some of the rebels formed a new political party, while 13 retained their seats as independents, 12 of whom voted for Abe as prime minister. The 12 independent Diet members include Takeo Hiranuma, former economy and trade minister, and Seiko Noda, former postal minister.

Earlier Thursday, LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa said the 2005 postal privatization pledge is an absolute prerequisite for LDP Lower House members.

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The Japan Times

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