Will the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) be able to break free of the feeling of stagnation within its own ranks? On Aug. 10, former secretary-general of the party Shigeru Ishiba officially declared his candidacy for the September LDP presidential race.
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It is clear that Ishiba is far behind current LDP President and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is looking to be elected to his third term as president of the ruling party and become the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan. Prime Minister Abe already has a majority in vote pledges by LDP members of the National Diet. As such, it is all the more important for Ishiba to take the initiative to bring up his points of contention with the current Abe government and head toward serious policy debate.
At the press conference he held to announce his bid for party president, Ishiba said he would aim for "politics that is honest, fair, humble and polite." The comment was a strong criticism of Prime Minister Abe, who has brought on public distrust through favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution. He also vowed to return trust in both politics and the government, including what are criticized as the unsavory practices of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs.
It seems that Ishiba intends to first question Abe's political methods, which stand out for silencing opposing views and running both the party and the Diet with an iron fist.
It also appears as though Ishiba may take a stance against Abe's goal of realizing constitutional revisions during his time as prime minister that would clearly define the existence of the Self-Defense Forces in war-denouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, while retaining its second paragraph banning Japan from possessing any war potential.
The LDP presidential election, which in reality is a race that will choose the next prime minister of Japan, is also an opportunity to review the accomplishments of the Abe administration that has now held power for over five and a half years. At the same time, it should also be a place to foster debate over government policy measures focusing on the Japan of 10 or even 20 years from now, beginning with the issue of the declining population that Ishiba strongly claimed was the "greatest crisis" for Japan during his press conference.
In this way as well, concretely showing differences between his policy and that of the prime minister will both make it easier for rank-and-file members and supporters of the LDP who have placed their hopes in Ishiba to decide whom they should vote for in the race, and for the country as a whole to also understand the differences between the two men. In addition, in-depth debate will possibly bring about a sense of tension within the party.
LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who had been considering running in the election, quickly withdrew, leaving five out of the seven political factions within the LDP in support of Abe's third election to the position of party president.
Still, within the LDP, there is still a deeply rooted uneasiness about the summer 2019 House of Councillors election if things in the party remain stagnant. The most representative of this worry is the Takeshita political faction, whose leader Wataru Takeshita, has decided to allow the 55 members of the group in the upper and lower house to vote individually. An overwhelming majority of the members of the Takeshita faction in the House of Councillors are thought to support Ishiba.
There are also voices claiming that people in regional areas in particular are dissatisfied with the prime minister. The LDP is worried that if the LDP presidential election is decided without honest and direct policy debate, then the risk of criticism of the party will only continue to grow stronger.
If Ishiba could gather a considerable amount of votes this time, even if Prime Minister Abe was able to lock in a third victory, then the prime minister's influence within the party would decline.
As Prime Minister Abe prepares to officially announce his candidacy for next month's LDP election in the near future, this is the time for the country as a whole to examine the condition and the future of Japan's ruling political party.