By political reporters Yosuke Ogawa, Akihisa Ota
A Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election will be held in 2018. Former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba is expected to run against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP president), who is seeking a third term. Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who is seen as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Abe, will make his decision on whether or not to run in the election after studying the situation in the party carefully.
Since no major national elections will be held in 2018, Abe is focusing on the LDP presidential race in September. His New Year’s message on Jan. 1 reflected his desire to seek reelection for a third term. If he wins, he may preside over a “super long administration” lasting up to September 2021.
After leading the LDP to a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election last year, Abe has been consolidating his support base in the party and he currently enjoys an advantage in terms of votes from Diet members.
The key issues in this election will include Abe’s economic and fiscal policies, constitutional revision, and the consumption tax increase to 10% in October 2019. A decision will have to be made by fall 2018 and the focus of interest is how Abe will explain the tax hike, which he has postponed twice in the past.
A focal issue in the presidential election is what Kishida, who leads the No. 4 faction in the party, will do. Kishida has remained cautious on his plans for the election.
While there is a persistent view in his faction is that he should support Abe now and aim to become the “leader after the next leader,” waiting for Abe to hand over the presidency to him, certain faction members, mostly the younger ones who are dissatisfied with the Kantei taking the lead all the time under Abe’s dominance, are clamoring for him to run in 2018. Kishida is poised to make steady efforts to prepare for his candidacy, such as by holding study sessions across faction boundaries, taking advantage of his experience as foreign minister.
Meanwhile, Ishiba is taking a clear “anti-Abe” stance. His strategy is to win the support of Diet members and party members critical of Abe. He told reporters in his hometown Tottori City on Jan. 1: “It is not good for the LDP and Japan to have no policy debate for two consecutive elections (after Abe won the presidential election without a vote in 2015),” thus indicating that he is keen on running in the election.
The Ishiba faction has 20 members at present, including Ishiba himself, so the faction alone will not be able to assemble the 20 endorsements required for candidacy. However, he plans to gain support from Diet members not belonging to any faction who are critical of Abe and some members of the Nukaga faction.
With regard to revision of Article 9, which is the key issue in constitutional revision, Ishiba is opposed to Abe’s proposal to retain Paragraphs 1 and 2 and add a provision on the Self-Defense Forces. He will advocate the revision of Paragraph 2 as well in the election.
Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda is planning to hold a “political seminar” for women this spring, reflecting her desire to run as LDP president. However, it is uncertain if she will be able to assemble the required endorsements. (Slightly abridged)