Shigeru Ishiba, the No. 2 in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a potential rival to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the party’s next leadership race, is ready to turn down Abe’s offer of a Cabinet post, a senior LDP official close to Ishiba said Saturday.
At a meeting likely to be held this week between the two, Abe is expected to convey his plan to relieve Ishiba of his position as LDP secretary-general and ask him to instead become state minister in charge of security-related legislation in a Cabinet reshuffle next month.
But Ishiba has told close aides it would be difficult to take up a ministerial post unless his strongly held beliefs about defense policy are accepted by Abe, the official said. Ishiba, a former defense minister, is expected to voice this to Abe in their meeting.
Ishiba was reportedly noncommittal when he was initially sounded out last month and briefly considered taking up Abe’s offer, but he has since changed stance. “The prime minister and Ishiba have fundamentally incompatible views on security legislation,” a lawmaker close to Ishiba said.
The lawmaker said that while Ishiba wants a basic law on national security enacted speedily to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a comprehensive manner, Abe has suggested he will postpone the move.
The Abe government approved a reinterpretation of the pacifist Constitution in July to pave the way for using military force in aiding an ally under armed attack even if Japan is not directly targeted, with plans to introduce a series of bills in the Diet to change the national security policy.
On Saturday, LDP lawmaker Kenji Kosaka, who is close to Ishiba, expressed concern over Ishiba’s personal views on defense and having to toe the government line as minister in charge of security-related legislation. If Ishiba took up the Cabinet post, it “could become a factor inhibiting the promotion of his own ideas,” Kosaka told a program on the TBS network.
A majority of lawmakers who support Ishiba are of the view that, instead of accepting Abe’s offer, he should continue to serve as party secretary-general, a post second only to Abe, who is also LDP president.
Some even argue that if Abe strips him of the secretary-general post, Ishiba would be better off staying outside the party leadership in order to prepare for the LDP presidential race in September next year.
After being initially sounded out in a meeting with Abe in July, Ishiba later conveyed to the prime minister through an intermediary that he was open to any post as long as it was offered formally. But those close to Ishiba set about talking him out of the move if it meant Abe replacing him as secretary-general, according to LDP lawmakers.