Abe looks to stand aside as LDP’s No. 2

by Reiji Yoshida

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shinzo Abe, during a face-to-face talk Monday with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, reiterated his intention to step down as the No. 2 man in the ruling party.

Abe’s departure in a planned reshuffle of party and Cabinet posts late this month could deal a blow to Koizumi, who heads the LDP but has few close allies in the party he can depend on.

Speculation is rife that Abe is trying to distance himself from the prime minister, whose popularity fell significantly this summer.

Abe, however, brushed aside that theory. “Of course, I told (Koizumi) that I will keep supporting his administration with all my strength,” he told reporters.

Koizumi did not allow Abe to resign after the party suffered a setback in the July House of Councilors election. But Abe’s determination this time appears firm.

“I again discussed what I talked about before (regarding) whether I should stay (as secretary general) or not,” Abe told reporters after the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

He has repeatedly said in public that he wishes to step down.

According to Abe, Koizumi this time did not try to dissuade him from resigning.

Abe said that during the meeting, Koizumi proposed that the two meet again Sept. 24, the day after the prime minister is scheduled to return from an 11-day official visit to Brazil, Mexico and the United States.

The reshuffle of the Cabinet and party executive posts is expected to take place sometime during the week of Sept. 27. Koizumi is expected to ponder his next appointments during his overseas trip.