The Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election is essentially a poll to choose the next prime minister.
Although only LDP lawmakers and registered members and supporters can vote, the party must provide open debates on policy issues among the candidates to win broad public support for its government.
But the LDP, especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apparently has no serious interest in addressing the public’s concerns.
More than a week since Abe announced his candidacy for the LDP presidential election on Sept. 20, the voting public has yet to hear details of his policy agenda for the new three-year term he is seeking.
Abe has also not held a news conference about his re-election bid.
This is all the more baffling because LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, a former party secretary-general and the sole challenger in the election, has announced his campaign promises and proposed election debates with Abe.
Abe’s campaign is focused on the people who will actually cast ballots and the party’s loyal constituencies.
He has held a flurry of meetings with LDP lawmakers, local assembly members of the party and senior executives of industry organizations that support the LDP.
In a Sept. 3 ceremony to open his campaign headquarters, which is staffed mainly by members of the five LDP factions that have decided to back the incumbent, Abe asked for support for his re-election bid by enumerating the achievements of his administration, which has been in power for five years and eight months.
Abe’s reluctance to debate Ishiba is reflected in the event schedule for the race. The two candidates are scheduled to deliver campaign speeches at only five locations around Japan, down from 17 for the previous LDP presidential election held in 2012.
During the official campaign period, the political battle will be effectively suspended for four days when Abe visits Vladivostok to attend an international conference on Sept. 10-13.
This will undoubtedly be a disadvantage for the challenger, who can do nothing while Abe shows off a high-profile diplomatic performance.
Abe should immediately announce the policy agenda for his new term before the official campaign period starts on Sept. 7 and agree to debate key policy issues with Ishiba.
Last week, the LDP’s presidential election management committee distributed a document to newspapers and news agencies calling for “fair and just” reporting on the election.
The unusual document urged news organizations to treat the candidates fairly and equally in terms of interview content, articles and photos as well as the scale of coverage.
Individual news organizations should decide on their own how to report specific news items.
Moreover, the LDP leadership race is not an election for public office and not regulated by the Public Offices Election Law.
If the committee’s document reflects the Abe campaign’s concerns about Ishiba’s active efforts to communicate his messages to the public, the prime minister’s camp can and should counter by agreeing to debates with the challenger.
The LDP faction led by Hiroyuki Hosoda, to which Abe belongs, has required its members to sign a pledge to do their best to support Abe’s efforts to be re-elected for a third term.
The move can only be described as an extraordinary attempt to put relentless pressure on Diet members, who are elected representatives of the people.
Abe is still reeling from the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, two school operators with links to him or his wife. He may be making desperate efforts to stage a “landslide victory” to maintain his leadership power after the vote.
But Abe’s inward-looking election campaign can do nothing but turn off general voters.