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PM Abe trying to keep low profile during party leadership race

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, is seen at a board meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party at its headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- With just over a week until campaigning is to begin for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential race, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who declared his candidacy aiming for a third term on Aug. 26, is maintaining a low profile in an effort to stave off any bad press and quietly cruise into his third term as prime minister.

In contrast, former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, Abe's sole rival in the election, has appeared on various media outlets to voice his criticism of the prime minister.

Abe's camp came up with a flyer of his campaign promises on Aug. 28, but it was not distributed to the media, nor was a press conference given regarding its contents. It was handed out only to lawmakers belonging to the LDP, and consisted of one double-sided sheet of paper -- the same amount of information contained in the flyer Abe's camp distributed in 2015, when Abe went uncontested in the LDP leadership election.

Former state minister in charge of economic revitalization, Akira Amari, who belongs to the Aso faction led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, is expected to be appointed secretary-general of the Abe camp's joint campaign headquarters. Amari explained to reporters on Aug. 28 that Abe's campaign pledge was about "accelerating the strengths of 'Abenomics,' and filling in its weaknesses to bring it to its perfect form."

The front of the campaign flyer reads "Responsibility, implementation," placing emphasis on realizing policies that the Abe administration already upholds. On the back of the flyer is the headline, "Looking at six years of the Abe administration through numbers," and lists economic indices that show improvement. Through this tack, Abe appears to be pitting his "achievements" against Ishiba's emphasis on "honesty, justice."

Any direct debate with Ishiba, who questions Abe's attitude and approach toward politics, runs the risk of reigniting debate on the Moritomo and Kake school scandals. The prime minister, who has the upper hand in securing votes from lawmakers, is placing priority more on directly meeting and winning over LDP party members, than on getting media coverage. After dining with Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members at the prime minister's official residence Aug. 28, Abe met with Tochigi Prefectural Assembly members over cake and told them, "I am committed to staying at Japan's helm for three more years." That evening, he dined with Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly members in Tokyo, then left to go to a restaurant at a hotel where he met with executives of Japan's three top business organizations -- the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) -- in an effort to garner support from business leaders.

In the 2012 LDP presidential election, Prime Minister Abe campaigned on a platform of pulling Japan out of deflation and instituting monetary easing measures, but he himself did not use the term "Abenomics" until the general election of the same year. Prior to the 2015 LDP leadership election, Abe refrained from promoting any new policies, and only after he was re-elected did he lay out the "three new arrows" of Abenomics' monetary and fiscal policy. It has been Abe's modus operandi not to link any key policies to LDP presidential races, and instead roll them out in national elections.

Meanwhile, Ishiba made his dissatisfaction clear when he told reporters in the Ehime prefectural capital of Matsuyama, on the western Japanese island of Shikoku, that he couldn't understand why the LDP decided to keep the number of debates between him and Abe during the campaign period at three, as in the previous election, despite Ishiba's request for more. "It goes against the prime minister's call for 'big-boned (bold) debate.'"

A source close to the Ishiba faction said, "The Abe camp probably wants to create a situation where it's the day of voting before anyone really realizes the election campaign had been going on."

(Japanese original by Shinya Hamanaka and Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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