Campaigning for the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election kicked off Friday morning with three candidates -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki -- filing their candidacies for the Sept. 20 poll.
The president of the LDP is chosen by a vote among LDP members — LDP Diet lawmakers and more than 1 million party members who have a paid party membership for two consecutive years.
The 403 lawmakers will each get one vote. An additional 300 votes will be divided among the party’s prefectural chapters, allocated according to membership numbers.
Despite daily media reports predicting Abe’s victory, Tanigaki is not fazed.
“The thing about elections is that you never know what is going to happen,” Tanigaki said. “I believe (what is important) is how to build trust between the government and the general public . . . What is necessary is for each politician to be honest about what (he or she) is thinking without running away nor wavering. And that is what I plan to do.”
Aso also said that he planned to win.
“Nobody (announces his candidacy) in an election with the intention of losing,” Aso said. “At times, a prime minister may be placed in severe situations. I believe that a prime minister as the leader of a country needs to be determined, decisive and brave.”
Although the candidates ended up all being members of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet, names have come and gone during the lead-up to Friday.
Abe’s biggest rival was said to be former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, also a member of the Mori faction. At age 70, Fukuda has more experience and was viewed as in good position to take on Ichiro Ozawa, the veteran president of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan.
Fukuda was also known for his diplomatic skills in rebuilding friendly ties with Japan’s Asian neighbors, but in late July he announced that he would not run.
Other names that circulated include Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga, former LDP vice president Taku Yamasaki, Kunio Hatoyama and Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono.
For many wannabe candidates, getting the endorsement of 20 LDP lawmakers is a difficult task.
The withdrawal of Fukuda left Abe with the backing of the largest LDP faction, with 86 members, while his rivals struggled to meet the quota because they belong to smaller factions — Tanigaki with 15 and Aso the smallest with 11.
At Friday’s news conference, Abe said he respected Koizumi for his decisiveness in pushing through the postal reform bill and backing the United States on the war in Iraq.
However, Abe also said that Koizumi was hard-hearted.
“But (being hard-hearted) was not for (Koizumi) himself but for the future of the country,” he said. “If it is (for the country’s future), there may be a time when (the leader) must make a decision and get rid of sentiment.”
One example of Koizumi’s determination was his reaction to the LDP lawmakers who opposed his postal privatization bill.
He refused to endorse them as official party candidates in the Lower House election in September 2005. He then selected candidates who were frequently described as “assassins” to run against them in their districts. He then topped it off by kicking them out the party.
Abe, Aso and Tanigaki all agreed that there was room to discuss letting the rebels back into the party.
Before the news conference Friday, Abe spoke about his father in a speech to his LDP supporters. Shintaro Abe, a former LDP secretary general, had wanted to become prime minister but died in 1991 before achieving his goal.
“It took my father 30 years to run as a candidate for the presidential election,” Abe said. “Throughout this time, as his secretary, I saw with my very own eyes how he tried (to become leader) until he bled.”
New defense body Shinzo Abe, the front-runner in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race, said Friday he wants to set up a new government body to determine if Japan can legally exercise the right to collective defense under certain conditions.
He also said on an NHK news program that the government has already been studying such cases.
In the same program, Abe said he would like his first overseas trip to be to an Asian country if he wins.