By The Japan News/Asia News Network
Two top figures in the Liberal Democratic Party are making opposing moves in pursuit of the same goal: They both aim to become the “post-Abe” leader.
LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida is emphasizing his cooperation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by keeping pace with Abe regarding policy and other areas, while former party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba is making clear his adversarial stance toward the prime minister.
“Someone must shoulder the responsibility for a new era. I, as one such leader, want to properly prepare for that,” Kishida said at a press conference on Monday, reiterating his desire to be Abe’s successor.
Kishida has been actively increasing his public appearances recently. On Monday he visited Mito and Hitachi-Ota, Ibaraki Prefecture, both hit by Typhoon No. 19, to observe flooded rivers, evacuation centers and other places. He then returned to Tokyo, where he held the press conference.
In Hitachi-Ota, Kishida talked to reporters about issues including this fiscal year’s supplementary budget, which will include measures for reconstruction from natural disasters. Emphasizing his leadership, Kishida said, “I instructed all division directors [at the Policy Research Council] to begin discussions before Abe gave such instructions.”
Abe sought to appoint Kishida as party secretary general when he reshuffled LDP executives in September. Abe’s term as LDP president runs through September 2021, and many members of the party’s Kishida faction expect Kishida to take the lead in the race for a successor.
Kishida is also emphasizing his willingness to contribute to discussions within the LDP on constitutional amendment, a key issue for Abe. Young lawmakers belonging to the Kishida faction, led by Kishida, held a study meeting Monday in Tokyo on the LDP’s draft for four constitutional amendments, the main focus of which is to stipulate the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution.
Traditionally, the Kishida faction is dovish. However, Kishida told close aides, “Because the draft retains the first and second paragraphs of Article 9, there is no problem,” and plans to hold discussions within the faction.
Kishida also intends to hold a regional policy research council meeting on the subject of constitutional amendment in Hiroshima Prefecture, his constituency, before the end of this year.
Taking confrontational stance
“I will dedicate myself wholly to the country and to the next era,” Ishiba said Monday night at a party he gave in Tokyo, expressing his determination to be Abe’s successor.
Ishiba has adopted a strategy of garnering support from anti-Abe forces by firmly maintaining a confrontational approach to the prime minister. At a meeting of the Ishiba faction on Nov. 7, Ishiba commented on Abe’s answer to a Diet question concerning two recently resigned Cabinet ministers, saying, “I doubt if [the people] felt empathy for him or were convinced by his answer.”
In particular, Ishiba makes clear his opposition to Abe over constitutional amendment. At a discussion meeting that Ishiba participated in with people including Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the Democratic Party for the People, Ishiba criticized Abe’s opinion on the amendment of Article 9, saying, “I just don’t understand his opinion, I just can’t.”
However, there are no signs of support for Ishiba spreading within the party. In September’s reshuffle of Cabinet ministers, no members of the Ishiba faction got into the Cabinet.
Strong popularity in regional cities is Ishiba’s strength, but he has not cooperated with other LDP factions. A senior member of the Ishiba faction said, “Unless Ishiba tamps down the opposition against Abe, he may fail to gain support from within the party.”
Amari: Fourth term possible?
Akira Amari, chief of the LDP Research Commission on the Tax System, on Monday said, “I wonder if the global situation will not allow [the resignation of Abe as LDP president after three consecutive terms].”
By saying this, he indicated the possibility of a fourth term for Abe as party president.
Amari was speaking in response to a question during a party in Tokyo. Saying that U.S. President Donald Trump, who is friendly with Abe, is likely to be reelected in 2020, Amari said, “Abe is strongly expected to play the role of skillfully building a bridge between leaders with strong characters [such as Trump] and others.”