Two ruling Liberal Democratic Party challengers threw their hats into the ring today against former Education Minister Toshiki Kaifu, 58, the likely successor to outgoing Prime Minister Sosuke Uno.
As applications closed, former Health and Welfare Minister Yoshiro Hayashi, 62, and former Transportation Minister Shintaro Ishihara, 56, a hawkish politician and novelist, had filed their candidacies along with Kaifu in an election for a new party president.
The new leader will be chosen at a party caucus Tuesday and then, perhaps on Wednesday, is expected to be elected prime minister by the lower house of Parliament, which the Liberal Democrats control.
Uno, taking responsibility for a disastrous defeat in an election for the upper house of Parliament, announced on July 24 his intention to resign.
Ganri Yamashita, 68, a former chief of the Defense Agency, said Friday he also wanted to run, but was not able to gather the required 20 endorsements from Liberal Democratic members of Parliament to submit a valid application.
Ishihara's candidacy had been regarded as a strong possibility, but Hayashi's took analysts by surprise. His candidacy was expected to produce a split among the party's major factions, a development that could give the new prime minister trouble as the party faces a strengthened opposition in the forthcoming election for seats in Parliament's lower house.
Rebelling against the selection of Kaifu by the two largest factions of the party, members of the faction led by former Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa pledged support for Hayashi.
Until Friday, the Miyazawa faction had aligned itself with the factions of former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe in upholding party unity and supporting Kaifu. After the Takeshita-Abe alliance for Kaifu took shape Wednesday, Miyazawa had said Kaifu met his qualifications for a new leader: youth and a commitment to reform.
Hayashi and Ishihara said they will run in order to ensure an open election and underscore the need for reform of the party's closed-door practices. Kaifu, like Uno, was handpicked by Takeshita and then supported by Abe.
Some supporters of the rebels also cited Kaifu's disclosure Wednesday that he, like the discredited front-line party leaders, had accepted political contributions from Recruit Co., an information and real estate conglomerate that was at the center of an influence-buying scandal. The scandal was rated second only to a 3% consumption tax, which the party implemented contrary to a 1986 election promise, as a cause of the party's plummeting support among voters.
Dubbed a "neo-new leader" by the Japanese media, Kaifu, like Uno, commands no personal following. He is a second-echelon leader of the party's smallest faction, a group that claims the loyalty of only 31 of the party's 405 members of Parliament. It is these 405, plus one party representative from each of Japan's 47 prefectures, or states, who will vote at Tuesday's caucus.