Shigeru Ishiba, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s No. 2 man, is likely to take the new post of minister for defense legislation in a Cabinet reshuffle slated for early September, thereby taking charge of pushing through Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s key security policies, party sources said Sunday.
“If I receive a formal request, I will accept the offer whatever post it will be,” LDP Secretary General Ishiba told Abe through the prime minister’s aides, according to the sources.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Takeo Kawamura, former chief Cabinet secretary and currently chairman of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee, are among possible candidates to succeed Ishiba as LDP secretary general.
In a meeting with Ishiba last month, Abe broached the idea of appointing him as defense legislation minister. Abe wants to tap the former defense minister’s knowledge and expertise in security policy as the government steps up legal arrangements to put into effect its landmark decision to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or defending allies under armed attack even when Japan itself is unharmed.
The decision in July to effect the change by reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution, rather than by amending it, has prompted creation of the new ministerial post.
At the July meeting with Abe, Ishiba asked for time to consider the offer. He is now leaning toward accepting the offer so as not to spark a feud among party members ahead of the LDP’s leadership election in September next year, according to the sources.
Ishiba is regarded as a potential future prime minister as he finished a close second to Abe in the LDP’s last party leader election, in September 2012.
Many LDP members supporting Ishiba hope the party heavyweight will remain the party secretary general, or think Ishiba should prepare to run in the next LDP presidential election without serving in any Cabinet post.
If Ishiba decides to assume the new ministerial post, he may face difficulties convincing his supporters he did the right thing. Some believe doing so could prevent Ishiba from becoming prime minister because as a Cabinet minister, he would not be able to criticise Abe’s policies.
Ishiba could be also asked to concurrently serve as the defense minister, according to the sources.
Abe was earlier expected to carry out the Cabinet reshuffle on Sept. 4. But the schedule may be moved up a day as it has become clear that Abe will finish by Sept. 1 his key diplomatic schedule with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.