YOKOHAMA — Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the front-runner in the race to become the next prime minister, said Tuesday he would push ahead with contentious efforts to amend the Constitution if he is chosen to succeed Junichiro Koizumi.

“It is time to take the initiative to place (creation of) a new Constitution on the political road map,” Abe told a convention of members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s southern and northern Kanto chapters held in Yokohama.

The most controversial constitutional issue concerns Article 9, which prohibits use of force to settle international disputes.

Abe, who is widely regarded as hawkish on defense issues, did not make detailed proposals about the type of constitutional amendments he advocates, or when they should be made.

Abe has reportedly argued that the war-renouncing Constitution, even without amendment, should be interpreted as allowing the country to use the right of collective defense.

According to the current government’s official interpretation of the Constitution, Japan has the right of collective defense but is not allowed to exercise it because of the war-renouncing Article 9.

The 51-year-old lawmaker is well known as an advocate of constitutional revision or creation of a new one. In a recently published book, he argued that the preamble to the Constitution, drafted by the Allies soon after World War II, is “like a deed of apology by the defeated nation to the Allied Powers.”

Abe is widely expected to run for president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 20. The head of the party will become prime minister.

During the convention, he also said he wants to improve the country’s education system, creating one in which the Japanese people can feel a sense of pride.

Abe called on the government to set up an organization similar to U.S. National Security Council, which would answer to the prime minister and would hold regular meetings on foreign policy and national security matters.

All five of the prospective candidates for the LDP presidential post were at the convention. Abe, who has not yet officially declared his candidacy, is expected to announce his intention to run Sept. 1.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, another possible candidate, argued that the Constitution should be amended to make it clear that Japan can use its right of collective defense.

Tanigaki also emphasized the need to improve public finances, arguing much of the welfare system should be financed by an increase in the consumption tax. Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who declared his candidacy Monday, said he would push for amendment of the basic education law, without elaborating.

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