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LDP to hold 3 debate sessions for candidates in presidential election

Former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba announces his campaign pledge for the upcoming party presidential election in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 27, 2018. (Mainichi)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens to an explanation from an official of a company in the city of Fukui, which manufactures carbon fiber composite material for aircraft engine parts, during a visit on Aug. 27, 2018. (Pool photo)

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has decided at its presidential election administration committee to hold three debate sessions between candidates in the leadership race.

The LDP panel thus dismissed a request by LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, one of the prospective candidates, that more discussion sessions focusing on specific policy issues be held between candidates.

The plan is part of the detailed schedule for the Sept. 20 LDP presidential election, whose campaigning is to kick off on Sept. 7. The party will officially approve the schedule as early as Aug. 28. The race is expected to be a two-way battle between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Ishiba, former secretary-general of the governing party.

According to the schedule, candidates will deliver their policy speeches and hold a joint news conference after filing their candidacies on Sept. 7. Campaign speech sessions by candidates will likely be held in at least five locations including Tokyo, Kyoto and Saga.

A total of three one-on-one debate sessions between candidates will be held during the campaigning period, one to be organized by the Japan National Press Club, another by the LDP's Youth Division and Women's Affairs Division and yet another by the operator of online video site Nico Nico Douga.

A plan to have candidates appear on TV programs of commercial broadcasters as part of their campaigning is also under consideration.

The schedule basically follows the one for the autumn 2012 LDP presidential election, in which Abe was elected party leader. During the campaigning for the 2012 election, three debate sessions and two joint news conferences were held while the candidates had 18 campaign speech sessions.

Ishiba requested that a three-hour debate session focusing on each of specific policy issues be held at least four times during the campaigning period.

At an election administration panel meeting on Aug. 27, a member from an intraparty faction led by Ishiba insisted that more debate sessions be held, but none of the other panel members agreed to the idea.

With regard to policy issues, the two prospective candidates differ over constitutional revisions. Ishiba announced his campaign pledge for the presidential election, calling for careful discussions on constitutional revisions with other political parties.

"I don't think we should be bound by a schedule for constitutional revisions," Ishiba told a news conference at the National Diet Building on Aug. 27, suggesting that he attaches importance to the formation of a consensus between political parties at both chambers' commissions on the Constitution as well as gaining public understanding on the issue.

His stance toward revising the postwar Constitution is in stark contrast to Prime Minister Abe's aspirations to make sure the LDP's proposal on amendments to the supreme law will be submitted to an extraordinary Diet session to convene this coming autumn.

Abe has proposed to add a new provision stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Article 9 of the Constitution while retaining the clause's war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2, which bans Japan from possessing any war potential.

"Let's put an end to debate on whether the SDF is unconstitutional," Abe said in a training session of the LDP's Fukui Prefecture chapter on Aug. 27.

Ishiba unveiled a "100-day plan to regain the public's confidence in politics and administrative organizations" as a key policy measure he would implement if he is to become prime minister.

At the news conference, Ishiba declared that he will review the way the government runs the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, which manages the appointments of high-ranking officials of ministries and agencies.

"We need to ensure transparency of policy promotion processes led by the prime minister's office," he said.

Ishiba also underscored the need to clarify rules on senior government officials' meeting with outsiders, keeping in mind that records of a meeting between Tadao Yanase, former secretary to the prime minister, and officials of a school operator at the center of a favoritism scandal were not kept.

Ishiba said he will consider raising the consumption tax rate to over 10 percent to secure financial resources for social security programs. The current 8 percent consumption tax is scheduled to be raised to 10 percent in October 2019.

The LDP bigwig emphasized that his catch-phrase of seeking to achieve "honest" and "fair" politics remains unchanged.

Prime Minister Abe will also announce his campaign pledge for the leadership race shortly. In addition to his long cherished goal of constitutional revisions, the pillars of his pledge are expected to be the revitalization of local economies, economic policies including overcoming the prolonged deflation, creating a social security system targeting all generations, and diplomatic and security policies including the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and a response to North Korea.

Five key intraparty factions and other members supporting Abe's bid for a third consecutive term as LDP president are set to establish a joint campaign office for Abe by the end of this week.

(Japanese original by Nozomu Takeuchi, Shinya Hamanaka, Hiroyuki Tanaka, Minami Nomaguchi, Akira Murao and Shu Furukawa, Political News Department)

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