The ruling Liberal Democratic Party edged closer to extending Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term as party president on Tuesday, proposing to either raise the existing limit to three consecutive terms over a total of nine years or abolish term limits entirely.
If Abe is able to run for a third three-year term as party president, and succeeds, he will be in office when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are held in 2020.
Current party rules limit LDP presidents to two consecutive terms totaling six years, meaning Abe’s term is set to expire in September 2018.
While Japanese law does not limit the number of consecutive terms a prime minister can serve, by convention he or she must be the head of the ruling party.
There were no objections to the idea of extending the party president’s term at the first board meeting Tuesday of the task force on party and political system reform, according to LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who chairs the gathering.
The LDP is expected to prepare to revise party rules at a convention next year reflecting the task force’s conclusions.
The panel’s acting chairman, LDP policy chief Toshimitsu Motegi, told reporters following the meeting that he understands the rules will be swiftly enforced following their revision.
In the meeting, members confirmed that the change will not be carried out as a special measure for Abe alone.
According to sources close to the matter, the party is considering bringing a policy group on board, led by former Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki, to collect a wide range of opinions on the issue.
“The party will look at the situation in the international community as it decides on its direction (in determining) what form the role of president should take,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Tuesday.
Once the task force sorts out the points of contention, it will take the debate to a meeting open to all LDP lawmakers.
Attention will be paid to how potential successors to Abe, including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, handle the issue.
While the two LDP heads who held the prime ministership prior to Abe’s re-election in late 2012 resigned early, Junichiro Koizumi, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, stepped down when he reached the term limit.
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