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Abe eyes Ishiba for new Cabinet post on defense legislation

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to replace Shigeru Ishiba as the No. 2 man in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and has sounded him out about assuming a newly created Cabinet post for defense legislation, a party source said Tuesday.

The envisioned changes would be part of Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for the first week of September, his first since taking office in December 2012. Abe, who heads the LDP, also plans to reshuffle party executives.

Ishiba, the LDP’s secretary-general, is widely regarded as a potential future prime minister. He has refrained from making his stance clear on the proposed move, the LDP source said.

Bearing in mind that the party will be holding a presidential election next year, some of Ishiba’s supporters want him to avoid taking any post either in the government or party. Others say he should continue supporting the Abe administration.

Abe likely broached the idea of handing the new Cabinet post to Ishiba during an hourlong lunch last Thursday, hoping to tap the former defense minister’s knowledge and expertise in security policy ahead of a parliamentary debate on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, the source said.

Abe has decided to create a new ministerial post in charge of security legislation following the Cabinet’s controversial July 1 decision to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution, allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Abe, who aims to win re-election as LDP leader next September, appears keen to include Ishiba, who he beat in the party’s presidential election in September 2012, in his Cabinet, political analysts said.

After becoming head of the party, Abe picked Ishiba to be the LDP’s secretary-general in a move to boost party unity.

In that capacity, Ishiba helped LDP-backed candidates win the Lower House election in December 2012 and the Upper House election last July.

In a setback in July, a candidate backed by the ruling coalition was defeated in the Shiga gubernatorial election.

Upcoming races include the gubernatorial election in Okinawa Prefecture in November that is likely to focus on the controversial plan to relocate the Futenma air base within Okinawa, and unified local elections in spring 2015.