Nakagawa hints favoring Abe as next chief

by Hiroko Nakata

Whoever succeeds Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should be highly popular with voters, Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Hidenao Nakagawa argued Friday, sparking speculation that he would back Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe in the September LDP presidential election.

In a speech at the Japan Press Club, Nakagawa said Koizumi’s successor should enjoy as high as 50 percent public support in media polls, the level above which Koizumi has stayed throughout most of the period since he took power in April 2001.

“(The next prime minister) should enjoy a public support rate of around 50 percent, like Koizumi,” said Nakagawa, a key policymaker.

Among four politicians widely regarded as potential successors to Koizumi, Abe has consistently ranked at the top in media polls asking who should be the next prime minister. The other three are Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Finance Miniter Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Nakagawa, a close aide to Koizumi, also argued that contenders for the LDP’s presidential race should avoid making an issue out of the contentious Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

“Whether to visit Yasukuni is a private matter, and I should not say what a successor should do,” he said.