Muted start to race for LDP leadership

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba are vying for the top LDP post. But Mr Abe is widely expected to win the contest, having secured the backing of five of the party's seven factions that collectively
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (above) and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba are vying for the top LDP post. But Mr Abe is widely expected to win the contest, having secured the backing of five of the party's seven factions that collectively account for about 70 per cent of the LDP MPs.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba are vying for the top LDP post. But Mr Abe is widely expected to win the contest, having secured the backing of five of the party's seven factions that collectively
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba (above) are vying for the top LDP post. But Mr Abe is widely expected to win the contest, having secured the backing of five of the party's seven factions that collectively account for about 70 per cent of the LDP MPs.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

Hustings delayed due to Hokkaido quake, but PM Abe likely to keep post

The starting gun was fired yesterday in the race to decide who will be Japan's next prime minister, but there were no raucous brickbats or fiery debates as campaigning in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been put on hold for the weekend because of the deadly Hokkaido quake.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and one-time defence minister Shigeru Ishiba were formally nominated to compete in the election on Sept 20 for party president for the next three years.

As the LDP is Japan's ruling party, the winner will be prime minister until 2021.

But with Japan reeling from a powerful typhoon and earthquake this week, campaigning will kick off only on Monday with a news conference.

Also, an election debate at the Japan National Press Club scheduled for today has been postponed to next Friday, after Mr Abe returns from a visit to Vladivostok. He will be in the Russian city for the three-day Eastern Economic Forum that starts on Tuesday.

Mr Abe, 63, is widely expected to win the LDP contest, having secured the backing of five of the party's seven factions that collectively account for about 70 per cent of the LDP's Members of Parliament.

His opponent, Mr Ishiba, 61, is an MP representing Japan's least-populated prefecture of Tottori, and is seen as a salt-of-the-earth leader with popular appeal among the local and regional chapters.

Both men had squared off in the September 2012 LDP election; the party was the opposition then and the country was governed by the Democratic Party of Japan. Mr Abe prevailed in that ballot, edging out Mr Ishiba, owing to his strong support among the LDP's lawmakers.

It paved the way for him to be prime minister when the LDP won a national election three months later, in December 2012.

Party rules had, until a revision last year, capped the maximum tenure for LDP presidents at two consecutive three-year terms. Mr Abe was elected unopposed in 2015.

Another three years as Japan's prime minister will give him the time he needs to push through social security reforms - including raising the retirement age to 70 - and fulfil his desire to revise the pacifist Constitution.

Pro-Abe factions are already calling for a proposal to be submitted to Parliament this year for debate on the issue of the Constitution. Mr Ishiba, too, wants the supreme law revised, but said it should not be rushed.

Any constitutional change will need the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the Lower and Upper Houses - numbers the LDP currently have, although the next Upper House polls will be held in July next year. It will also need a majority in a public ballot.

Opinion surveys last weekend showed that the general public slightly preferred Mr Abe to Mr Ishiba. A poll by broadcaster TBS showed 40 per cent preferred the Prime Minister as the LDP's next leader. Mr Ishiba had 39 per cent.

A separate poll by the Mainichi news daily showed 32 per cent in favour of Mr Abe, to Mr Ishiba's 29 per cent. Another 28 per cent, however, said neither was fit for the job.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Muted start to race for LDP leadership'. Print Edition | Subscribe