TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his rival Shigeru Ishiba filed their candidacies in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election on Sept. 7, as campaigning for the race officially kicked off.
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This is the first election to feature multiple candidates since 2012, in which Abe was elected party president. Abe was re-elected in the 2015 election without opposition.
Evaluation of the "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe administration, along with constitutional revisions, are expected to take center stage as key points of contention during campaigning. A total of 405 votes are allocated to LDP legislators and another 405 votes to rank-and-file party members. On Sept. 20, the winner of the election will be announced.
The LDP postponed a Sept. 7 policy speech event and a joint news conference between the candidates to Sept. 10 in the wake of a powerful earthquake that jolted the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on Sept. 6.
Both the Abe and Ishiba camps will refrain from campaign activities until Sept. 9. They also cancelled their respective ceremonies to mark the start of their campaigns.
At a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers at his office on the morning of Sept. 7, Prime Minister Abe, 63, said he intends to concentrate on government efforts in disaster-hit Hokkaido for the time being. "We'll step up our response to the disaster and do our best to save people's lives. I would like for us to take a proactive approach to the situation," he said.
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari, who serves as secretary-general of Abe's campaign staff, said the team will appeal to LDP legislators and rank-and-file members for support of the prime minister's policies in his place.
"Although the prime minister's activities will be limited, we would like to convey the prime minister's plans for the next three years," Amari told reporters.
After filing his candidacy, Ishiba, 61, a former party secretary-general, told reporters, "I'd like to debate with LDP President Abe what the LDP should be like and how we should lead the country in front of not only party members, but also the general public."
Prime Minister Abe intends to emphasize the achievements his government has made over the past five years and eight months, and pledge to continue "Abenomics." He will also ask LDP legislators and rank-and-file members of the party to support his plan to incorporate a paragraph stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces into Article 9 of the Constitution, while still retaining the clause's war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2, which bans Japan from possessing any war potential.
Ishiba, on the other hand, will call for a review of Abenomics and criticize the prime minister's constitutional amendment proposal. Ishiba is calling for paragraph 2 of Article 9 to be completely deleted.
Moreover, Ishiba will highlight differences between his political stance and that of Prime Minister Abe, while bearing in mind favoritism scandals involving two school operators -- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution -- that have sent shockwaves through the Abe administration.
About 1.04 million rank-and-file members of the LDP nationwide are eligible to vote in the leadership election by Sept. 19. A total of 405 votes allocated to these ordinary party members will be distributed to the candidates according to a highest averages method. A total of 405 LDP legislators will cast their ballots on Sept. 20.
Prime Minister Abe has the upper hand in the election, expected to win votes from more than 80 percent of LDP legislators and over 60 percent of the votes from rank-and-file members.
(Japanese original by Akira Murao and Keiko Takahashi, Political News Department)