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Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan's leadership ballot gets underway

All three prime minister candidates vow to rescue Japan's economy

Juliet Hindell: "It might have to go to a second round"
Japan's ruling Liberal Democrat Party has started voting to choose a new party president to replace the outgoing Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

He resigned to take responsibility for the party's disastrous showing in July 12 elections for the upper house of Parliament.

Mikio Ikuma, of Japan's Shimbun newspaper, discusses the candidates
The winner is virtually certain of being elected prime minister in a later vote by parliament because the LDP commands a comfortable majority in the powerful lower house.

Correspondent Juliet Hindell reports on the prime minister candidates
The new LDP president will serve out the rest of Hashimoto's term until the end of September 1999.

The three candidates, making their final public speeches on national television, all vowed to pull Japan out of its economic difficulties.

They demurred from saying how many votes each had secured so far. "It's a corporate secret," said Seiroku Kajiyama, one of the candidates.

According to Japan's Kyodo News Service, some young LDP members from the Lower House are worried about the party's poor showing in the Upper House. Around 20 members have proposed leaving the party if Mr Obuchi, the party stalwart candidate, is chosen as its leader.

If no one wins a majority in the first ballot, a second ballot will be held immediately between the top two candidates.

Mr Ordinary

[ image: Keizo Obuchi: supported by majority of party members]
Keizo Obuchi: supported by majority of party members
Foreign Minister, Keizo Obuchi, 61, is seen as the front-runner of the election, with broad party support. He is from the old-school of Japanese politics, adept at forging compromises among competing political groups.

Mr Obuchi said on Thursday it would not be easy to solve the country's bad loan problem - Japan's banks are saddled with huge unrecoverable loans

"The first priority is resolving the bad loans. But the problem is that there may not be enough to ensure the economy will pick up," Mr Obuchi said.

Political veteran

[ image: Seiroku Kajiyama: oldest candidate]
Seiroku Kajiyama: oldest candidate
The 72-year-old former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Seiroku Kajiyama has a 30-year political career behind him. He is committed to restoring health to Japan's once-vibrant economy, through fundamental reform, not just superficial fixes.

Because of his age, he acknowledged that he could die at any time, but wants to spend his last years in service to the country.

"I may stumble along the way but I will devote my life to economic recovery," Mr Kajiyama said.

People's choice

[ image: Junichiro Koizumi: people's favourite]
Junichiro Koizumi: people's favourite
Health Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, 56, enjoys the greatest support among the public. He is outspoken and has presented himself as a drastic reformer.

In his speech, he said the party had to consider why it had done so badly in the upper house election

He said politicians should listen to the voters and think about the long-term future.

"We have to restore the trust of the people in politics," Mr Koizumi said.

"Before we ask people to endure any hardships we have to show that the government and politicians can endure painful reforms themselves."

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