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PM Abe striving to win support of local chapters in LDP presidential election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, chats with Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games chief Yoshiro Mori in front of the Olympic and Paralympic mascots, at the prime minister's office on Aug. 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is actively meeting with local assembly members belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a bid to garner votes from the party's local chapters in the leadership vote in September.

The prime minister is doing so out of reflection on the fact that his rival Shigeru Ishiba, former LDP secretary-general, garnered far more local votes in the LDP presidential election in 2012, which Abe won. However, Abe has refrained from high-profile campaigning in regional areas after it was reported he attended a party with LDP Diet members in early July, when western Japan was being threatened by torrential rains.

On Aug. 7, Prime Minister Abe met with 26 local politicians, including members of ward assemblies in Tokyo as well as the Akita and Yamagata prefectural assemblies, at the Diet members' office building in Tokyo. On whether he will run for a third term as LDP president, Prime Minister Abe told the 26 local assembly members that he "would like to make an announcement when the time is ripe."

At the same time, however, the prime minister asked the assembly members for cooperation in revising the postwar Constitution, saying, "Now is the biggest opportunity."

With the mediation of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe also met with Yokohama Municipal Assembly members at his official residence on the same day, and attended a gathering held by Saga Prefectural Assembly members. Last year, Abe asked a legislator belonging to his own LDP faction led by former party Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda to arrange meetings with local legislators, saying he wanted to "increase opportunities to interact" with them. He then visited Osaka, Hokkaido, Shiga and Saitama prefectures between April and early July.

However, Abe came under fire for attending a party called "Akasaka Jimin-tei" with LDP legislators on the night of July 5, amid a heavy rain warning issued mainly for western Japan. Since then, he has not held evening meetings, and has limited his visits to regional areas to those hit by the rain disaster. Instead of parties, Abe has been inviting local politicians to his official residence neighboring his office.

Prime Minister Abe seldom mentions the LDP's presidential election in meetings with local politicians, but an individual who attended one such get-together said, "We have a tacit agreement on the purpose of the meetings."

When assembly members from torrential rain-hit Gifu Prefecture visited the prime minister's office on July 24, Takashi Nekota, a senior official of the LDP's Gifu Prefecture chapter, expressed support for Abe's bid for re-election as party leader.

Abe's meetings with local assembly members are arranged by executive acting secretary-general of the LDP Koichi Hagiuda, former education minister Hakubun Shimomura, and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura -- all key Hosoda faction members. They typically invite local LDP politicians visiting Tokyo to meet the prime minister.

The four key intraparty factions led respectively by Hosoda, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, and party Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, have expressed support for Abe's bid to stay on as LDP leader. Meanwhile, aides to Abe are hoping to garner at least 70 percent of votes allocated to the LDP's local chapters.

However, Abe mainly meets with local legislators who are close to his aides. He has not been able to meet with local assembly members from Fukuoka, Aso's home territory, Shimane, where LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita is from, Kishida's turf in Hiroshima, or Tottori, where Ishiba's constituency is situated. This shows that Abe cannot fully rely on other factions for arranging meetings with local assembly members.

The first Abe Cabinet, which lasted just a year in 2006-2007, was ridiculed as a "crony Cabinet," and an individual linked to the Hosoda faction said, "It's not appropriate that only those around the prime minister get excited."

(Japanese original by Akira Murao and Shu Furukawa, Political News Department)

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