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LDP reeling after pro-Abe lawmaker allegedly tells minister to resign for backing Ishiba

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, far left, and farm minister Ken Saito, far right, take their seats during a Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office on Sept. 18, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is under criticism over an incident in which a lawmaker supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe allegedly demanded a Cabinet member resign for backing former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba in the Sept. 20 LDP presidential election.

Abe, 63, is seeking a third term in the leadership race, and Ishiba, 61, is the sole contender facing off against the premier.

Farm minister Ken Saito said on Sept. 14 that a pro-Abe Diet member demanded he resign if he continues to support Ishiba. Abe has denied the allegation. Saito told reporters on Sept. 18 that he had no further comment, saying he already revealed what he needed to say.

Ishiba referred to the incident in a street speech on Sept. 18 in the city of Onomichi in the western prefecture of Hiroshima, "Saito is not someone to lie. He was told, 'Leave the Cabinet if you support Ishiba.' Since when has the LDP become such a party? questioned Ishiba.

Ishiba continued his offensive against Abe as he moved to the city of Fukuyama in the same prefecture. He attacked Abe's remark during a TV Asahi program on Sept. 17 when the premier said he wanted Saito to identify the Diet member by name. The prime minister, referring to highly competitive presidential races in the past, also said, "A story like that has often popped up." Ishiba lambasted Abe in his stump speech, saying, "It's not acceptable that pressure and power harassment are regarded as something 'that happens very often' in our LDP."

Opposition parties joined the fray. Democratic Party for the People President Yuichiro Tamaki called the incident, "a reign of terror," adding, "Freedom is escaping from the LDP." Apparently, party members are complaining. "We are told by members that it's not good to make threats," said a secretary in the Abe camp. "The situation is tough," said the secretary with apparent uneasiness.

A self-employed person who listened to Abe's speech in the central Japan city of Nagano on Sept. 18 said both the Abe side and the Ishiba camp should take blame. In his speech, Abe kept a low-key attitude toward criticism against him, saying that he wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on himself and manage the administration "modestly and carefully."

(Japanese original by the Mainichi Shimbun)

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