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Japan ex-PM Abe restarts political activities as calls backing him in post-Suga race rise

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, greets supporters after his resignation in September, in the Yamaguchi Prefecture city of Nagato on Nov. 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Shuhei Endo)

TOKYO -- Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is gradually returning to the political stage, speaking at meetings of a prominent conservative lawmakers' group among other activities.

    Abe visited his home turf of Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan on Nov. 1 for the first time since he resigned as prime minister on Sept. 16, and vigorously traveled around the prefecture for three days to meet supporters. The former prime minister has also shown his intention to those around him of returning to the Hosoda faction -- the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s largest with 98 members -- as early as 2021.

    "The medication I'm on is working great, and my condition is recovering at a very fast pace," said Abe at a meeting with his supporters in the prefectural city of Nagato. Abe's midterm resignation came after his chronic disease -- an intestinal disorder called ulcerative colitis -- worsened. Abe has been treated with an intravenous drip instead of the usual oral medication and has apparently recovered to the point where he has been telling people around him that he "is full of energy."

    After visiting the family grave in Nagato, Abe took part in an interview with the press. When asked how he will engage in constitutional reform, he replied using his unique wording and provocative language to insist on the need to discuss the controversial issue.

    "Opposition parties said they would not allow the Constitution to be amended during the Abe administration, but there's no excuse for them now because we have the Suga administration. That kind of dispute didn't make sense in the first place, but a discussion about the Constitution is an opportunity for Diet members to show their insight. I would like to work harder to boost momentum (for constitutional reform)."

    Abe then went on to visit four places within the city to greet his supporters on that day.

    The following day, the former prime minister visited the Yamaguchi Prefectural Government office and the Nagato and Shimonoseki city halls. He was welcomed by Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka and roughly 500 people including prefectural assembly members at the prefectural office. He was also welcomed by around 300 people including Shimonoseki Mayor and former secretary Shintaro Maeda at the Shimonoseki city hall.

    Abe is also now active in Tokyo and began to speak in public again starting with a party that was held by the Hosoda faction on Sept. 28 -- about a month after his resignation announcement. On Oct. 25, he attended a meeting of the LDP's parliamentary group Sosei Nippon as its chairman. Though the group had been inactive since Abe returned to power in 2012, it resumed it activities on this occasion.

    On Oct. 27, Abe participated in a general meeting of the LDP parliamentary league "The Conference to Japan's Dignity and National Interest" and encouraged the group that has been calling for continued Imperial succession by males with patrilineal lineage by telling its members, "I would like you people to become the axis of the LDP." Another participant commented, "Mr. Abe said he was glad to be able to speak more freely now than during his period as prime minister."

    According to an opinion poll, the approval rate of the Abe administration shot up after he announced his resignation. Though the LDP's rules restrict the party presidential tenure to three consecutive terms, it does not rule out a member being chosen the party's president for a third time, and some Diet members are raising Abe as a candidate after Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga.

    Though Abe says he "would like to concentrate on his activities as a lawmaker as he had continued to receive all-party support," there are people who demand Abe to once again become chair of the Hosoda faction once he returns, and his every move might attract attention from within and outside the party.

    (Japanese original by Shuhei Endo and Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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