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Friday, Feb. 6, 2009

Divisions over Aso rack LDP's largest faction

Staff writer

The Liberal Democratic Party's largest faction decided Thursday to unify solely under former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura in an attempt to muzzle outspoken faction manager Hidenao Nakagawa and keep him in line with its goals.

The Machimura faction used to have three managers — Lower House members Machimura and Nakagawa, and Shuzen Tanigawa of the Upper House — with former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori serving as supreme adviser.

But Mori has become furious with Nakagawa for leveling criticism at Prime Minister and LDP President Taro Aso. He suggested at the faction's weekly meeting Thursday that the group follow just one leader — Machimura.

"I don't plan on changing things. I will continue playing ball with all of the players, including Nakagawa and Tanigawa," Machimura told reporters after the meeting. "There is going to be an election sometime soon, so we need to make sure we have good results by using all of our group's strength."

Machimura's promotion means a de facto demotion for both Tanigawa and Nakagawa, even though Nakagawa's title will not change.

Nakagawa has been going against the grain of his faction since last year. When his faction backed Aso for the LDP's presidential election in September, he threw his support behind Yuriko Koike instead.

Most recently, he has stated strong opposition to Aso's consumption tax plan and repeatedly hinted he might form a new party or start a "political realignment."

Nakagawa declined comment on the development, but Tanigawa, the No. 3 manager, cheerfully told reporters he didn't feel the internal shift was a big deal.

"Just because Machimura's position was changed to chairman, I think it is wrong to consider the move a demotion" for Nakagawa, he said, adding that he doesn't resent Nakagawa for what happened.

"I don't think I was dragged into anything . . . and I don't think (the leadership) has become unbalanced," he said.

Nakagawa has strong support from young and midechelon members of the party, which is probably why he was allowed to remain one of the three managers.

Faction members have mixed feelings about the leadership shift.

Masahiko Shibayama said he was upset that the decision was made without any disclosure. "Both Nakagawa and Machimura are very experienced and capable, so I didn't think there was anything wrong with continuing things the way they were," he said.

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The Japan Times

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