Japan PM Abe looks set to coast to victory in ruling party election, paving way to historic 3rd term

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech, following an earthquake in Hokkaido, while attending a cabinet meeting at his official residence in Tokyo, on Sept 6, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to claim an easy re-election victory in the ruling party's leadership vote this month - even though campaigning doesn't officially begin until Friday (Sept 7).

A poll by the Sankei newspaper found 345 - or 87 per cent - of lawmakers with the Liberal Democratic Party already support giving Abe a historic third term. That's compared with 50 for his only challenger, former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Each of the party's 405 lawmakers get a vote in the Sept 20 election, while another 405 votes are divided between regional party members.

A third consecutive term as party head would put Abe on course to become the country's longest-serving premier.

In a series of recent media interviews, he has said he wants to tackled the intractable problems facing the world's oldest population. His agenda includes admitting more foreign workers to ease Japan's labour shortage, encouraging the elderly to shun retirement, and overhauling the country's social security and health care systems - while increasing sales tax to boost funding.

There may be distractions from his domestic economic agenda - if re-elected, he would also have to fend off demands from US President Donald Trump for concessions on trade.

Abe has also vowed to press ahead quickly with a divisive plan to change Japan's pacifist Constitution.

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