National / Politics

In LDP leadership contest, battle for non-lawmaker votes intensifies

JIJI

Ahead of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Sept. 20 leadership election, a battle is intensifying between the two anticipated candidates for support from non-lawmaker party members across Japan.

This weekend Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to start a series of regional visits, including to the prefectures of Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Toyama, Aichi and Tokushima. He is expected to announce his bid for a third consecutive term as LDP president while in Kagoshima on Sunday.

The possible declaration outside Tokyo — a rare move for the party’s presidency — appears to reflect Abe’s eagerness to win broad-based support in the upcoming party poll.

Kagoshima has a historical link with Yamaguchi Prefecture, which includes Abe’s constituency. The Satsuma-Choshu alliance, or the Satcho alliance, referring to the old names of the two prefectures, was a driving force behind the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century.

Abe, 63, is believed to be hoping to highlight his emphasis on reforms, as well as regional issues, by using this history, according to sources close to the prime minister.

Shigeru Ishiba, 61, who has served as LDP secretary-general as well as defense minister and other Cabinet positions, is also traveling across the country this summer, aiming to drum up support from local party members.

During a speech in the town of Makubetsu, Hokkaido, on Wednesday, Ishiba stressed that the decline of regional communities is the biggest challenge the nation is facing.

When he announced his bid for the LDP leadership on Aug. 10, Ishiba, a former regional revitalization minister, pledged to work for the reinvigoration of regional economies including the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors.

In the previous leadership election, in 2015, Abe faced no opponents. In the 2012 poll, he came from behind to win against Ishiba, who led in a first vote with far greater support from ordinary party members but was defeated in a runoff vote of lawmakers.

This time, Abe is believed to have already secured support from over 70 percent of the party’s lawmakers. However, the results of voting by ordinary party members are “unpredictable,” according to a source among Abe’s supporters.

Abe is eager to gain overwhelming support from both lawmakers and ordinary members, in order to keep his grip on power.

Hakubun Shimomura, a senior member of the LDP’s largest internal faction from which Abe also hails, has said the incumbent party leader would not deserve another term if he fails to win support from a majority of ordinary party members.