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Opposition parties say LDP election mirrors discontent within party

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The leaders of Japan's opposition parties said Thursday the Liberal Democratic Party's leadership race mirrored growing discontent within the ruling party over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's firm grip on power despite him securing another three-year term.

The victory over former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba put Abe on course to becoming the country's longest-serving prime minister, but some opposition party leaders said Ishiba garnered rather strong support from LDP lawmakers and rank-and-file members.

"My impression is Mr. Ishiba did quite well," Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters.

Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called on the LDP to prioritize post-disaster reconstruction measures.

The LDP's presidential race came after typhoons and earthquakes hit various regions of Japan, causing significant fatalities and damage.

"The LDP's inward-looking event is now over. I hope an extraordinary Diet session focusing on disaster response will be convened as soon as possible and a supplementary budget will be compiled soon," Edano said.

Of the 807 valid votes cast by Diet members and rank-and-file members of the LDP, Abe secured 553 votes while Ishiba got 254 in Thursday's election.

As Abe aims to amend the pacifist Constitution for the first time since it was promulgated after the war, Tamaki called for thorough discussions first within the ruling party.

Abe plans to submit his party's proposals for a constitutional revision to the next Diet session, but many opposition parties argue the LDP should not hastily start a Diet debate.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii said the outcome of the LDP election is testimony to growing criticism against the Abe administration.

"Many people are opposed to pushing it in a hurry. It won't go easily and we will not allow it to happen," Shii said, referring to Abe's wish to explicitly mention the Self-Defense Forces in a revised Constitution.

But Japan Innovation Party's Toranosuke Katayama expressed hope the LDP will take the lead in parliamentary debate over the Constitution, saying the prime minister enjoyed solid support based on the vote counts.

Abe, who returned to power in 2012, secured another three-year term but it will be his last under existing LDP rules.

"The prime minister should take the outcome humbly," said Social Democratic Party Secretary General Seiji Mataichi. "We need to make sure today will be the beginning of the end for his administration."

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