Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba hinted Friday that he will accept a Cabinet post if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers him one in a reshuffle that is due to take place on Wednesday.
Whether Ishiba will shun Abe’s offer of a Cabinet post and emerge as a powerful rival against him in the LDP presidential election next fall has become the focus of widespread speculation.
But for now at least, Ishiba has chosen to avoid an outright confrontation with Abe.
“I’m a member of an organization. Once the top leader makes a decision, it’d be a matter of course” to follow it, Ishiba said after lunching with Abe at the prime minister’s office.
“I will keep supporting the Abe administration with all my strength,” he added.
Ishiba had openly said earlier that he would prefer to remain secretary-general and would turn down a request to fill the new post of minister in charge of national security reform.
Some of his fellow party members reacted strongly to the comment and viewed it as a hostile declaration against Abe. Afterward, it was reported that Abe would likely offer Ishiba a different post, perhaps the internal affairs or economy and trade portfolios.
Ishiba’s comments on Friday, however, could reduce his chances of becoming prime minister, which would happen if he won the LDP’s presidential election next year.
Some of Ishiba’s aides have reportedly urged him not to take a Cabinet post to clarify the rivalry. But by reaffirming his loyalty to Abe, Ishiba appears to be backing off — a move that might disappoint his supporters.
Ishiba was Abe’s biggest rival in the LDP presidential election in December 2012. He actually received more votes than Abe from the LDP’s local chapters, but Abe defeated him by winning more support from the party’s Diet members.
In recent weeks, Abe reportedly planned to sack Ishiba as secretary-general and put him in charge of national security reform legislation.
As a Cabinet minister, it would be difficult for Ishiba to advocate any policy that conflicts with Abe’s. Abe’s plan has thus been taken as a political maneuver to reduce Ishiba’s clout and his potential to challenge him.
Abe’s efforts to remove Ishiba also signaled that he intends to remain president beyond next fall. That would make Abe one of Japan’s longest-serving postwar prime ministers.
Facing reporters at the prime minister’s office, Ishiba tried to play down the rumored rivalry.
“Media outlets say a chasm is emerging or disagreements have become clear, but there’s been no such thing,” Ishiba said. “There’s no concern over our relation of trust.”
Asked if Abe offered him a specific Cabinet post at Friday’s meeting, Ishiba was mum.
“I won’t say anything about (it) until Sept. 3,” Ishiba said. “Neither will the prime minister.”
Mizuho Aoki contributed to this report