Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeated on Monday that he wants to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to clarify the ambiguous status of Japan’s military if re-elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 20.

Abe’s proclamation set him apart from his only challenger in the race, ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who said the prime minister’s proposal to legitimize the Self-Defense Forces hasn’t gained enough public support to warrant calling an immediate national referendum on the sensitive issue.

Abe also said that the unpopular consumption tax should be raised to 10 percent from 8 percent in October 2019 as scheduled.

Ishiba said he would establish a social security panel to review medical, nursing, pension and child-rearing issues if he is elected LDP president.

He also argued that the panel would be tasked with discussing how the consumption tax revenues should be used for social security services.

Monday was the first time the two contenders had faced off in public. The winner of the election will not only become the next leader of the conservative LDP, but Japan’s next prime minister as well.

The faceoff followed a three-day hiatus caused by the earthquake in southern Hokkaido, which had left 44 dead as of Monday morning.

“This will be the last time I will ever run for the leadership election,” Abe told a packed news conference at LDP headquarters.

Media surveys and opinion polls have suggested Abe is likely to win a majority of the 810 votes cast by lawmakers and rank-and-file members nationwide.

The focus now is on how much clout Ishiba will be able to wield after the Sept. 20 poll.

Citing long-standing scholarly disagreements over the constitutionality of the SDF, which is regarded by some as a violation of strictly pacifist Article 9, Abe repeated his pitch on the issue: “Let’s fulfill our mission as politicians to codify the status of the SDF, which protects peace and independence of Japan.”Abe clarified in the clearest terms yet that he will work toward submitting the LDP’s proposals for amending the supreme code to the extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened this fall, if given a third term. He also said he would aim to hold a national referendum, a prerequisite for revising the charter, by the time his next term expires in September 2021.

Ishiba, who himself is a staunch backer of amending the Constitution, responded by saying that more “urgent” issues should be prioritized first.

He was referring specifically to adding new clauses to the supreme law that would allow the government to declare a state of emergency during natural disasters and to eliminate Upper House electoral districts that combine more than one prefecture.

“I don’t think (Article 9) should be put to a national referendum without sufficient understanding from the public,” Ishiba said.

Abe also said he intends to compile emergency measures he said would make Japan more disaster-resistant over the next three years.

Regarding diplomacy, the prime minister said that, if re-elected, he will settle thorny diplomatic woes ranging from the abduction issue to signing a peace treaty with Russia “once and for all.”

Addressing his fellow lawmakers before the news conference, Ishiba emphasized that his chief objective is to “revitalize regional economies.”

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