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76% of LDP Diet members back third term for Abe as party leader: poll

Kyodo

More than three-quarters of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet members support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid for a third consecutive term as president, the results of a poll show.

Of the 405 members in both chambers, 310, or 76.5 percent, said they plan to vote for Abe in the September election because of his economic and diplomatic achievements, the Kyodo News poll found.

The results, released Sunday, bode well for the 63-year-old Abe, who has been in power since late 2012 and could become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister if he secures another three-year term. That will allow him to serve through the Olympics and give him time to pursue his long-sought goal of revising the pacifist Constitution. Abe also served briefly as prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

Among his rivals are former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 61, who has the support of 24 members, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, 57, who could only muster one vote of confidence other than her own.

The election is expected to be officially called on Sept. 7, with voting to be held on Sept. 20. The candidate who receives the majority of votes from an electorate split 50-50 between the Diet members and the regional members will win.

Factions in the party often play a large role in securing support, and with at least one faction having yet to declare its support for a candidate, the votes could shift. Sixty-eight lawmakers either said they were undecided, declined to answer, or said they will vote as told by their faction leader.

But rivals will be hard-pressed to overtake Abe’s considerable lead, with Noda struggling to even find the 20 nominations needed to run.

Abe’s popularity apparently stems from concerns that a leadership change would destabilize Japan’s international footing at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to impose steep tariffs and North Korea appears to be opening up to dialogue.

“No one else can deal with President Trump,” said one lawmaker in explaining his support for Abe.

Abenomics, his economic growth package comprising fiscal spending, radical monetary easing and vows of structural reform, has helped lift corporate profits and drive down unemployment, though another lawmaker said those favorable effects have yet to trickle down to regional economies.

Among those who did not support Abe, some cited the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen scandals that have sparked allegations of cronyism against him, his wife and his administration.

His unconvincing denials of impropriety “have not gained the understanding of voters,” a member of Ishiba’s faction said, suggesting the issue could hurt the LDP in next year’s Upper House election.