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Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012

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The usual suspects: Potential candidates in the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential race, slated for Sept. 26, are believed to include (from left) incumbent Sadakazu Tanigaki, Shinzo Abe, Nobutaka Machimura, Shigeru Ishiba and Nobuteru Ishihara. KYODO

Abe in crowded field vying for LDP helm

Big names look to win Sept. 26 poll, then go on to lead nation


Staff writer

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who intends to run in the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential race this month, launched a study group Wednesday with 60 members that may become his support group for the election.

The study group, aimed at discussing strategies for economic growth, includes seven Cabinet ministers from Abe's administration between 2006 and 2007, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki and former Internal Affairs Minister Yoshihide Suga. As a candidate needs the endorsement of at least 20 lawmakers, Abe is starting with an advantage if the group members back him.

But Abe, 57, is not the only one interested in running in the Sept. 26 election. Along with current LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki, 67, four other blue-blood veterans have hinted they may take the plunge.

The others are party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara, 55, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, 67, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 55, and deputy LDP policy chief Yoshimasa Hayashi, 51.

Whoever wins will try to pressure Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda into dissolving the Lower House for a snap election. Noda is president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which will hold its leadership poll Sept. 21. He hopes to be returned.

Tanigaki has unfortunately already lost key support from party heavyweight Makoto Koga even though since becoming LDP leader in 2009 the incumbent helped push out two DPJ prime ministers — Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan.

Some party members criticize Tanigaki for flip-flopping on cooperating with the DPJ-led administration's social security and tax reform bills, and on a censure motion submitted by small opposition parties in late August.

Koga, 72, head of the LDP's second-biggest faction, refused to back Tanigaki on Monday. It was a major blow for Tanigaki, who was counting on support from the 32-member group.

"I am hoping (the new leader) will be someone young who can rebuild the LDP. So I told Tanigaki that I will take a chance and support a young candidate this time," Koga said Monday.

He is considering getting behind Ishihara, whose hawkish father, Shintaro, is the Tokyo governor and a former LDP member. Although Ishihara is emerging as the favorite among some experienced lawmakers, he told reporters Tuesday he will support Tanigaki until the end of his term.

"Since I have been supporting President Tanigaki as an executive member, it's natural I will back him as long as I'm secretary general," he said.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori questioned whether Abe can gain support from the public if he is elected. Abe "stepped down as prime minister due to a health problem. Did he do a good job of explaining that to the public? It's important how the public sees him," Mori said Sunday on a TV program.

Abe, a silver-spoon politician whose grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was also a prime minister, made it to the top office minister in 2006 but abruptly announced his resignation a year later, admitting his health was partly a reason. The day after the announcement, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with nonulcer dyspepsia, which causes pain in the upper abdomen, possibly due to anxiety or stress.

He is likely to seek the cooperation of Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) headed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. Hashimoto asked Abe last month to join him as a core member, though the LDP lawmaker turned him down.

Abe, a nationalist who denied in 2007 there were any "comfort women" during the war, said he agrees with Hashimoto on amending the Constitution and education reform. As prime minister, he pushed for education to instill a sense of patriotism, and advocated relaxing restrictions against belligerence in Article 9.

"The core of their policy matches mine," Abe said Aug. 25.

His candidacy, however, could split his faction, as its chief, Machimura, is also expected to run for the LDP helm.

Machimura, who has been elected 10 times and served as education minister, foreign minister and chief Cabinet secretary, said Monday he "can't stop politicians in the same group with a strong will from running in the race," but even so he will try to get Abe to change his mind.

Former LDP policy chief and Defense Minister Ishiba, who shares similar views on security and diplomatic policies with Abe, is also eyeing the top seat. His study group gathered Tuesday and confirmed that the members will ask Ishiba on Monday to run, saying more than 20 lawmakers endorsed him.

"It's a serious matter 20 Diet members tell me, 'Let's do it together.' I want to sincerely accept the endorsement and clarify whether I'll run," Ishiba said.

In fact, Ishiba, versed in national security policies and independent from any faction in the LDP, is seen having an advantage in winning votes allocated to the party's local chapters.

The candidates seeking the party presidency will be competing for 500 votes — 200 allotted to Diet members and 300 to local LDP chapters.

Meanwhile, Upper House member Hayashi has asked his support group to officially endorse him. He belongs to the Koga faction, the same as Tanigaki. Koga had positive things to say about him, even though Hayashi is in the Upper House.

"I want to support young politicians," Koga said. "I hope Hayashi can move on to the next stage. I think (he can win the race) if he's capable, even though he belongs to the Upper House."



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