By Yosuke Ogawa and Akihisa Ota / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersThe ruling Liberal Democratic Party is scheduled to hold a presidential election this year, with former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and others expected to challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his bid for a third consecutive term as party leader.
LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida is seen as the most likely candidate to lead the “post-Abe” LDP, and intends to deciside on whether to run after a careful assessment of his strength in the party.
Abe golfed his first round of the year Tuesday in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, accompanied by Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara and Keidanren Honorary Chairman Fujio Mitarai.
“It felt good to see Mt. Fuji, like something good is going to happen this year,” Abe told reporters during a break in the round.
With no major elections scheduled for 2018, Abe’s eyes are on the LDP presidential poll expected in September.
In a New Year’s message dated Monday, the prime minister said, “Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, I am resolved to work with the public and proceed vigorously with reforms toward developing our nation in new ways.”
Abe appears to be eyeing a “super-long administration” by winning a third consecutive term, which could allow him to be prime minister until September 2021.
Abe led the LDP to a sweeping victory in October’s House of Representatives election, and has continued to shore up his support base in the party ahead of the leadership election.
He likely has the backing of the LDP’s largest faction, led by Hiroyuki Hosoda and to which Abe formerly belonged. The party’s second-largest faction led by Taro Aso, and the fifth-largest ‘faction’ led by Toshihiro Nikai, are also expected to support the prime minister. At the moment, Abe appears to be on top in terms of votes from Diet members.
The main issues at stake in the leadership election are likely to be the economic and fiscal policies Abe has promoted, and how specifically to proceed with revising the Constitution, a long-held desire of Abe’s.
In addition, a decision must be made by autumn this year on whether to raise the consumption tax rate as planned to 10 percent in October 2019.
Abe has already delayed the hike twice, so there will be much attention on how he will explain his position.
Cross-factional study group
Another focal point in the leadership election will be whether Kishida, who leads the fourth-largest faction, will run.
So far, Kishida has been cautious in his statements about whether he will run for party leader. “I’ll keep an eye on the political situation and consider it immediately beforehand,” he has said.
Many members of the Kishida faction think he should seek to succeed Abe in a smooth transfer of power.
One veteran member of the faction said Kishida should “support the prime minister and create an environment in which he has the backing of the prime minister and the Hosoda faction for the election after next.”
Others, mainly younger members, want Kishida to challenge Abe and run in the next leadership election. This sentiment is due in part to smoldering resentment of the strong leadership of the Prime Minister’s Office based on the current political structure in which Abe reigns as the predominant force in the party.
Kishida intends to continue to lay the foundation to run, for example by making use of his experience as foreign minister to launch private study groups on diplomatic themes that cross factional lines.
In contrast, Ishiba has clearly shown himself to be “anti-Abe,” apparently eying the support of lawmakers and party members who are critical of Abe.
On New Year’s Day, Ishiba told reporters in his hometown of Tottori that repeating the LDP leadership election of 2015, in which Abe ran unopposed, would be “bad for the party and also bad for Japan” because no policy debates would take place. This remark was interpreted as a sign he wants to run against Abe.
The Ishiba faction has only 20 members, including Ishiba himself, which clearly would make it difficult for the faction itself to gather at least 20 people to recommend Ishiba as an election candidate.
However, he appears to have his eyes on lawmakers who are critical of Abe and do not belong to any faction, as well as on some members of the faction led by Fukushiro Nukaga.
Regarding revisions to Article 9 of the Constitution, Ishiba opposes Abe’s proposal to maintain Paragraphs 1 and 2 while adding stipulations that would provide a legal basis for the Self-Defense Forces.
If he runs in the leadership election, Ishiba would likely propose revising both paragraphs.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda plans to start a “political school” this spring that would be only open to women.