TOKYO, Former Japanese Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba is set to announce he will try to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a September ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership election.
It is the party’s first such leadership vote since Abe took the reins six years ago. Ishiba, 61, has lamented the lack of policy debate in the party compared with the 2012 race, which featured five candidates.
Abe was re-appointed automatically three years ago, when no other politicians announced candidacy.
“It’s a chorus of: ‘I won’t run. I support Mr Abe,’” Ishiba said in an interview with Japanese television channel BS Fuji late yesterday. “What happened to the party of the past, where five people were able to hold a heated debate?”
Ishiba has previously criticised Abe over his plans to change the pacifist Article Nine of the constitution. Hailing from Japan’s least populous prefecture of Tottori, he has also called for greater efforts to revitalize the country’s regions. He is expected to officially announce his bid on Friday in Tokyo.
Abe, who assumed office in 2012, after a brief stint from 2006-07, is likely to fend off Ishiba’s challenge. Recent polls show that about three-quarters of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers plan to back Abe. His public support, meanwhile, has recovered after a series of scandals earlier this year led to predictions he could step down.
Victory would give Abe, 63, as many as three more years in office — bolstering his chances of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. He must balance a busy domestic agenda while dealing with trade demands from US President Donald Trump.
Japan is preparing for next year’s abdication of Emperor Akihito and the coronation of his son Crown Prince Naruhito, followed by an upper house election, and the Tokyo Olympics the following summer. The deadline by which the prime minister must call Japan’s next general election isn’t until 2021.
Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda — one of two women in Abe’s cabinet — has also expressed interest in running for the party leadership, but will likely struggle to secure the necessary backing. Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, cited by Abe as a potential future leader, has said he will not run this time.