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Abe plans to declare candidacy for LDP leadership contest on Sun.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans on Sunday to declare his candidacy for the Liberal Democratic Party leadership contest next month as he looks to secure his third consecutive term as party head, a senior party lawmaker said Wednesday.

Abe is expected to express his intention to run in the election scheduled for Sept. 20 during an event to be held by his party's local chapter while visiting Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, over the weekend, according to the lawmaker.

He has been touring Japan in an apparent attempt to broaden his support base among rank-and-file party members and beat his rival, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who has already thrown his hat into the ring.

The LDP presidential election effectively determines who will be Japan's next prime minister, as the ruling party controls the majority of both chambers of the Diet.

Abe is believed to be in the lead with support from five out of seven intraparty factions. Victory for Abe would give him another three-year term, putting him on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier.

The LDP president is seeking to boost his popularity in local regions because ballots by lawmakers and rank-and-file members will weigh equally in the first round of voting in the contest.

Abe, who was re-elected unopposed in 2015, was defeated by Ishiba in the initial stage of the previous election in 2012, but managed to come from behind in the runoff.

The two veteran lawmakers are expected to register their candidacies on Sept. 7, setting off the official campaigning.

Debates are expected on a number of issues, including amending the Constitution -- in particular, its war-renouncing Article 9.

Abe has called for adding an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces to ensure there is no way for them to be deemed "unconstitutional" and said the LDP should submit constitutional revision proposals to the extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall.

But Ishiba has insisted amendments to Article 9 are not a priority issue, citing a lack of public understanding of the issue.

He instead stressed the urgency of revising the Constitution on points such as giving the prime minister extraordinary power to deal with emergencies including natural disasters.

Abe also faces the challenge of how to regain public trust amid persistent allegations of favoritism leveled against him in connection with a pair of school building projects carried out by people with ties to him or his wife.

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