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Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Top LDP faction faces crisis over Aso-Koike split

Staff writer

The largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party is facing a crisis because of divisions over who to support in the presidential election next Monday.

The Machimura faction, which has produced the past four prime ministers, is led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, who has been troubled by the sudden resignations of the previous two prime ministers, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda.

Key members of the faction, including Machimura, Abe and Yoshiro Mori, have said they intend to vote for LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, who would become the next prime minister if chosen.

But going against the flow are fellow members Yuriko Koike, the first female candidate, and former LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, who is backing her.

The majority of the Machimura faction gathered Tuesday to hold a rally for Aso and announced it has collected signatures from 61 of the faction's 89 members in support of Aso.

The hawkish Abe, who beat Aso in the 2006 party presidential election and appointed him as his foreign minister, told the gathering that Aso is the best candidate to lead the LDP.

"I have come to the conclusion that Aso is the only person who we can entrust with the future of Japan," Abe said. "And not only must we make sure that Aso wins the presidential election, but also the great election coming up. Let's vow our solidarity and do our best to fight that battle."

Machimura played up Aso's unwavering conservatism and how it clashes with rival Koike's theme of reform.

"Aso is a true conservative who will by no means wander about with reform and the like," Machimura said. "He is the candidate that has stood firmly in the center of the LDP and who can continue standing there — and from that respect as well, I strongly believe in him."

Although Koike and her supporters may be a minority in the faction, she received one big vote from Koizumi, who is still widely popular with the public. Koizumi had lunch with Koike and her supporters Tuesday and gave them words of encouragement.

"You shouldn't think of those who don't support you as enemies," Koizumi advised. "They may become your ally one of these days."

Information from Kyodo added

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