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PM Abe stresses economic success; Ishiba cites need to revitalize rural regions

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shakes hands with former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba at a joint news conference for the party presidential election at the party headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized in a joint campaign speech session of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election that his government has achieved economic recovery over the nearly six years since it was launched.

His rival, former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba underscored the need to revitalize local economies, citing the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries as well as the service industry as having potential for growth.

The two candidates were originally scheduled to have the speech session on Sept. 7 shortly after filing their candidacies in the party leadership race. However, the meeting was postponed until Sept. 10 after the party decided to refrain from campaigning activities following a magnitude-6.7 earthquake that caused widespread damage and killed at least 40 people in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on Sept. 6.

At the beginning, the two candidates voiced their condolences to those who died in the quake and a typhoon that hit western Japan earlier in September, and expressed sympathy for those who suffered damage from the disasters.

Prime Minister Abe, who is seeking re-election as party leader, expressed enthusiasm about winning a third term as LDP leader and staying in power for three more years.

"This is the last party presidential election for me. I take criticism of me seriously and would like to humbly steer my administration while rectifying what I should rectify," he said. Abe apparently kept in mind favoritism scandals involving two school operators in western Japan-- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution -- that have rocked his government.

Abe claimed that Japan has restored its economy, which his government strived to achieve, since the administration was launched in late 2012. He cited an increase in employment and a tax revenue increase as examples of economic recovery.

Abe then said that the government has been using the fruits of the economic recovery to support education and childrearing, pledging to make education free of charge.

Prime Minister Abe vowed to reform Japan's social security system into one covering all generations within three years.

The prime minister also said Japan will take the initiative in creating rules to protect free trade.

On the diplomatic front, Abe said he will strive to resolve the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

Abe said the time has come to work on constitutional revisions. Specifically, Abe said he will aim to add a paragraph stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) into the war-renouncing Constitution. "It's the role of politicians to do this so that SDF personnel, who risk their lives to protect Japan, can work with pride," said the prime minister.

At a subsequent news conference, Abe urged the LDP to make preparations with the goal of submitting an LDP proposal on constitutional revisions to the Diet at an extraordinary session to be convened in autumn this year.

Ishiba underscored the importance of restoring the public's trust in the administration in pressing forward with policy measures. "Unless the government regains trust, members of the public won't support drastic reforms that the government is trying to carry out. I'd like to implement a 100-day plan to convince people that they can trust the government," he said.

Ishiba said he will prioritize economic recovery if elected president of the ruling LDP, a title that carries with it the position of prime minister.

While appreciating the "Abenomic" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe government, Ishiba pointed out that increases in corporate profits have not led to growth in individual income, and underscored the need to increase each worker's income.

He said it is necessary to establish an organization in the government to oversee policies of revitalizing local economies, noting that the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries as well as the service sector have potential for growth.

Regarding social security, Ishiba emphasized the need to improve the pension system, boost support for childrearing, reform the way people work, and spur women's empowerment.

Describing Japan's public medical insurance system as "unmatched in the world," Ishiba emphasized that it is necessary to avoid illnesses and prevent people from falling into a situation in which they need nursing care.

He said investment in human resources is an urgent task, and pointed to the need to support low-income earners, citing that there are 9.3 million people with an annual income of 1.86 million yen or less.

Ishiba said the government needs to set up a disaster prevention ministry to be prepared for any serious natural disaster.

As for constitutional revision, Ishiba said he will prioritize issues that are necessary and urgent. Regarding revisions to war-renouncing Article 9, Ishiba said in his speech, "We mustn't submit such amendments for a national referendum without public understanding."

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