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Abe, Ishiba clash over priority issues for LDP leadership race

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at the prime minister's office on July 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba are facing off over what should be the points of contention during the party leadership election in September.

Abe insists that constitutional amendment should be a key issue while Ishiba intends to focus on the negative aspects of the "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe administration.

"I'm determined to ensure that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will be provided for in the Constitution and fulfill my responsibility for that," Abe, president of the LDP, told a news conference on July 20.

Moves within the LDP to amend the supreme law have lost momentum, but the prime minister mentioned the issue because he aims to focus public attention on differences between Ishiba's insistence on amending war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and Abe's own proposal views.

Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is seen at a House of Representatives plenary session on July 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

The prime minister has proposed that a paragraph providing for the existence of the SDF be added to Article 9 without expanding the scope of SDF missions and activities. Specifically, Abe aims to incorporate such a new paragraph while retaining war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 that bans Japan from possessing any war potential.

However, Ishiba, former secretary-general of the LDP, insists that paragraph 2 be deleted while expressing support for the idea of incorporating a paragraph stipulating the existence of the SDF.

A close aide to Abe explained that the prime minister "aims to put an end to debate on which proposal should be adopted as LDP policy" on constitutional revisions.

Since the proposed deletion of war-renouncing paragraph 2 is considered to be more difficult to gain support for from legislators and the general public than Abe's proposal, the prime minister will apparently ask LDP legislators and other members in the campaign, "Who is the more realistic leader?"

Ishiba, a former defense minister who is well versed in security policies, is expected to make a powerful argument on revisions to Article 9. However, if constitutional amendment is a major point of contention, the prime minister will gain the upper hand in the campaign. Therefore, Ishiba is aiming to shed light on the adverse effects of Abenomics and urge the prime minister to rectify the policy.

Fumio Kishida, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council, answers questions from reporters after an extraordinary general meeting of an intraparty faction he leads, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on July 17, 2018. (Mainichi)

Ishiba indicated that he will unveil specific economic policies, which he said should be implemented instead of Abenomics.

In a TV Tokyo program aired on July 23, Ishiba emphasized that he will prioritize revitalizing the economies of rural areas that have not sufficiently benefited from Abenomics. "How to spur growth of small and medium-sized companies and rural areas are completely different from those for major companies and urban areas," he said. His remark indicated his intention to focus on revitalizing local economies that have not benefitted fully from Abenomics measures.

Meanwhile, Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council who has still not clarified whether he will throw his hat in the ring, has said in intraparty policy discussions that he places priority on restoring Japan's fiscal health.

In a pamphlet outlining his basic policy released in April, Kishida underscores the importance of exercising power in a restrained manner and making policy decisions after having thorough discussions among party members. This position apparently reflects Kishida's effort to differentiate himself from Abe, who yields almost unchallenged power as the leader of the ruling camp. Kishida then calls for transforming the decision-making process "from top-down to bottom-up."

Furthermore, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, who has also displayed her enthusiasm about running for LDP president, aspires to propose countermeasures against the population decline and measures to support women, to which she has attached particularly importance, in a bid to distinguish herself from other candidates.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda is seen at a House of Representatives plenary session on July 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

In a speech she delivered in Nagoya on July 23, Noda said, "I'll consider a system to ensure that those who raise children and do housework can work full-time."

Under the LDP rules amended in 2014, the same number of LDP legislators' votes will be allocated to the party's regional chapters. Since there are 405 LDP members of both houses of the Diet, excluding the chambers' speakers, 405 votes will also be allocated to the party's local chapters in the upcoming LDP presidential election. Moreover, with the 2013 amendment to the party's regulations, 47 votes will be allocated to the party's local chapters in a run-off vote. Only legislators had been allowed to cast their ballots in such a vote before the revision.

The LDP is planning to kick off the campaign for its leadership election on Sept. 7 for Sept. 20 voting, according to sources close to the party.

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki and Keiko Takahashi, Political News Department)

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