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Saturday, Sep. 15, 2012
LDP race is on, with five blue bloods running
By JUN HONGO
The Liberal Democratic Party's presidential campaign officially kicked off Friday in a five-horse race, with Shinzo Abe, Nobutaka Machimura, Nobuteru Ishihara, Shigeru Ishiba and Yoshimasa Hayashi vying for the task of regaining the government helm.
The election will decide who will lead the party in the next general election, which could come as soon as this fall, as well as possibly determine the next prime minister, since the LDP holds a lead over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in recent surveys.
Despite the incumbent Sadakazu Tanigaki giving up his bid for re-election, the diverse set of candidates include a former prime minister, a veteran LDP faction leader, the current secretary general, an expert on security and diplomatic issues and the first Upper House member ever to run in the race.
Abe, who served as the prime minister for a year beginning in September 2006, kicked off a speech event by the five candidates at LDP headquarters, saying he is ready to "rebuild a strong Japan."
He began his speech by apologizing for his sudden resignation as prime minister in 2007 but said he has recovered from the ulcerative colitis that caused him to step down. "I am ready to face Japan's difficult times ahead with the experience I have," he said.
The hawkish lawmaker also touched on revising the Constitution and maintaining Japan's right to exercise collective self-defense. Abe has gained support from LDP members close to former Prime Minister Taro Aso and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.
Ishiba, 55, also expressed his intent to push for revising the Constitution. The former defense minister known for his expertise in security and defense policies noted how the ruling DPJ has failed to resolve key diplomatic issues, including territorial dispute with neighbor countries and stationing of the contentious MV-22 Osprey U.S. transport aircraft in Okinawa.
"I have studied and worked on the Constitution, diplomacy and national security for a long period of time," he said. Ishiba is expected to gather his votes from local LDP chapters.
Machimura, 67, who served in the Abe administration as foreign minister, is the head of the LDP's largest faction. But he and Abe are expected to split the faction's votes in the election.
"We must create a dignified and robust Japan," Machimura said in his speech, repeating one of his catchphrases. The veteran lawmaker also touched on energy policy, stating that reactivating the halted nuclear reactors is "realistic" for Japan's future.
Ishihara, currently serving as LDP secretary general, thanked Tanigaki for his leadership "through the extremely tough years as the opposition party."
The 55-year-old son of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has gained the support of LDP members close to former Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga and former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki.
"A general election is expected to take place soon. In fact, (the new LDP chief) must push the DPJ into dissolving the Lower House, or else Japan will be in peril," Ishihara said.
Hayashi, who is backed by party heavyweight Makoto Koga and his faction, is the first Upper House lawmaker to run in the LDP presidential race under its current format.
"I am thankful for the opportunity for this reckless challenge to run in the election," the 51-year-old joked.
Hayashi, who has experience defense and economic minister, promised to create more jobs while backing economic growth.
Borrowing a line from the Beatles song "Hey Jude" during his speech, Hayashi, who has played in a pop-rock band featuring LDP members, said "the movement you need is on your shoulder" while urging other LDP members to join him in building a stronger Japan.
The poll takes place Sept. 26.
On collaborating with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's new national party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), the five echoed each other and said it is too early to discuss teaming up with the new force, although the new party does share some close policies with the LDP.
All five said the trilateral agreement with the DPJ and New Komeito to double the sales tax to 10 percent in exchange for dissolving the Lower House will remain valid.
On the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on Japan's involvement in the "comfort women" issue, Abe took a step further than the others and said he would "like to adopt a new version" that better fits historic facts, effectively denying the wartime military forced women and girls to serve as sex slaves.