There is now active discussion in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on the issue of extending the term of office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP president), which expires in September 2018. Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai has indicated that he will consider deleting the provision in party rules banning a third term for the president, aiming at reaching a conclusion within this year. However, there is strong resistance from former Regional Revitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who are hoping to succeed Abe, claiming it is premature to discuss this issue.
Nikai indicated at his inaugural news conference as secretary general on Aug. 3 that he will speed up the discussion on extending the party president’s term. When asked by reporters in Tokyo on that same evening if he intends to reach a conclusion within 2016, Nikai answered: “In terms of the political schedule, that would be the timeframe.”
There are calls in the LDP to extend Abe’s term because the Abe cabinet has maintained a high support rating.
Under current party rules, the president can only serve up to two three-year terms. After being reelected for a second term in September 2015, Abe will not be able to run in the next presidential election.
Certain Diet members close to Abe envision the dissolution of the House of Representatives for a general election shortly before the end of his term. They reckon that banking on a major victory in this election, Abe can also win the party’s approval for the extension of his term.
Others assert that it is better to amend party rules right now, riding on the momentum of the landslide victory in the recent Upper House election, according to an aide to the Prime Minister. It is thought that Nikai’s position on this issue is based on this opinion.
However, it will not be easy to amend party rules, since this will require a majority vote in a party convention assembling members of the Diet and local assemblies.
There is also criticism in the LDP against discussing extension when Abe has not even served the first year of his second term.
Ishiba told reporters at the Diet on Aug. 4: “We must not be mistaken about our priorities.” He indicated that this is a question to be considered after the administration has notched up achievements.
Kishida also appeared to be perturbed by the “haste” at a news conference on Aug. 3. (Slightly abridged)