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PM Abe declares candidacy in 2-way race with Ishiba to lead LDP

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters in Tarumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Aug. 26, 2018. (Kyodo)

TARUMIZU, Kagoshima (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he will run in the Liberal Democratic Party's leadership contest next month, setting the stage for an expected two-horse race with former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

"I am determined to hold the helm of Japan for three more years as LDP president and prime minister," Abe told reporters in Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture, in southwestern Japan.

With official campaigning starting on Sept. 7, the ruling party will hold the leadership election, which will effectively decide Japan's next prime minister, on Sept. 20.

Abe is predicted to win as five of the seven intraparty factions, which encompass about 70 percent of party lawmakers, have expressed their readiness to back the incumbent leader.

The 63-year-old Abe, who returned to power in December 2012, will become Japan's longest-serving prime minister if he wins the contest and secures another three-year tenure.

Ishiba, 61, who has assumed key posts such as minister in charge of regional revitalization and LDP secretary general under Abe, is seeking to broaden his support base among rank-and-file party members, who will also cast ballots in the September poll.

The LDP leader is certain to become Japan's prime minister as the ruling party and its junior coalition partner Komeito hold a majority in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet.

The Abe-led LDP won a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election in October last year. The next lower house election will be held in 2021 unless the body is dissolved.

The LDP will choose its leader through an election for the first time since 2012 after Abe was re-elected unopposed in 2015 when his term expired. Six years ago, Abe beat Ishiba in a runoff after coming second behind the same contender in the first round of voting.

Now that Abe has officially thrown his hat into the ring, debates are set to start on various issues, including amendments to the Constitution, how to boost regional economies and an evaluation of Abe's handling of the government for the past five years and eight months.

The two rivals have different ideas on revisions to the supreme law, in particular its war-renouncing Article 9.

Abe has called for adding an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces so that they would not be deemed "unconstitutional" and said his party should submit constitutional revision proposals to an extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall.

But Ishiba has insisted amendments to Article 9 should not be rushed, citing a lack of public understanding of the issue. He instead stressed the urgency of changing the supreme law on points such as giving the government unilateral power to issue ordinances to deal with emergencies, including natural disasters.

On economic policies, Abe is expected to tout the achievements of his "Abenomics" economic policy package, including aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan.

In a press conference Friday, Ishiba announced his pledges aimed at boosting Japan's regional economies, including transferring governmental ministries and agencies as well as large companies to local areas.

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