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Over 60% of LDP members to support Abe staying as party leader: poll

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- More than 60 percent of rank-and-file members of the Liberal Democratic Party said they will vote for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stay as president of the ruling party in its leadership election later this month, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.

The survey also found that more than half of the respondents supported Abe's intention to submit to the Diet the party's proposal for a first-ever amendment to Japan's postwar pacifist Constitution. Whether to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the supreme law is a major issue in the Sept. 20 election.

Of the party's ordinary members, who do not have Diet seats, 61.0 percent opted for Abe in the telephone survey conducted Friday and Saturday while 28.6 percent said they will vote his contender, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Abe, who is also believed to have already mustered support from a majority of LDP lawmakers, is expected to secure another three-year term with an opportunity to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

The winner of the election is expected to become the nation's next prime minister as the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito hold majorities in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet. Abe has maintained the party's presidency since 2012.

The LDP presidency is contested with parliamentary members and ordinary members holding 405 votes each. Of the total 810 votes, the Kyodo poll suggests Abe is likely to garner around 610 votes and Ishiba 180 votes.

But in the survey, 10.4 percent said they are undecided or refused to clarify who they will vote for. The survey collected valid responses from 1,525 people who said they are ordinary members of the party.

On the possible constitutional revision, Abe and Ishiba have different approaches to the issue.

Abe, eager to realize the revision, has proposed clarifying the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9 to bring an end to arguments made by some scholars that the Japanese troops are "unconstitutional."

Ishiba has insisted that rewriting Article 9 should not be rushed, citing a lack of public understanding. He instead calls for changing the Constitution on points such as giving the government unilateral power to issue ordinances in cases of natural disasters and other emergencies.

Asked which policy the party chief should focus on, with multiple answers allowed, the largest portion of 35.6 percent chose economic policy. Welfare policy came second, followed by foreign and security policy.

Abe was re-elected unopposed as head of the party in 2015 when his second term ended. Six years ago, he beat Ishiba in a runoff after coming second behind him in the first round of voting.

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