Former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who is running in the party’s upcoming presidential election, has repeatedly sought to hold debates with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is seeking a third term. Since Ishiba is lagging behind Abe in terms of votes from the Diet members, he wants to highlight how they differ in terms of policy through open debate in order to win more votes from rank-and-file party members.
Ishiba told reporters at the Diet on Aug. 21: “The U.S. president engages in debate and campaigns all over the country no matter how busy he is. This should also be the case in Japan. The party’s credibility will be affected if [Abe] fails to oblige.”
It was decided on Aug. 21 that the election will be held on Sept. 20, with the start of the official campaign period on Sept. 7. Several debates were normally held during past elections: the LDP’s Youth Division and other entities organized debates; debates were held in regional cities; and the National Press Club also held debates.
However, for the upcoming election, Abe is visiting Russia on Sept. 11-13, so there will be no LDP-sponsored joint speech meetings during this period. The Ishiba camp is complaining that “this is a de facto shortening of the campaign period.”
Abe had originally planned to announce his candidacy after the regular Diet session adjourned. However, this was delayed by the disaster brought about by torrential rains in western Japan and other crises, which also made it difficult for the candidates to face off before the start of official campaigning.
At a General Council meeting on Aug. 21, Ishiba faction House of Representatives member Ryosei Akazawa demanded that debates be held, gaining the support of several participants in the meeting. During the presidential election of 2006, prospective candidates held debates in each Lower House proportional representation bloc before the start of official campaigning. A Diet member close to Ishiba asserts that “the Prime Minister should also just campaign squarely, emphasizing his achievements.” Yet it appears that the Ishiba camp is anxious about a short campaign involving little direct debate.
Meanwhile, Abe, who is on summer vacation, played golf with his university friends in Narusawa Village, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Aug. 21. He showed great confidence when asked by reporters about his mental and physical preparedness for the presidential race, stating: “It’s improving each day.”
Officers of the factions supporting Abe gathered at the LDP headquarters on the same day, deciding to form a joint election campaign headquarters after Abe announces his candidacy. Certain officials of the Abe camp are not keen on holding debates, claiming “it is better to have less opportunities for them to be together, since Ishiba keeps criticizing the administration,” according to a faction officer.