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Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012

Abe pressures Noda on snap election, hints at top post for Ishiba

Staff writer

Newly appointed Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe stressed Wednesday that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda should keep his promise to dissolve the Lower House "soon."

Abe, who was party president and prime minister before quitting for health reasons in 2007, is the first LDP member to serve as president twice in separate terms. Insisting that he has completely recovered from the ulcerative colitis that hampered his first term, Abe, 58, emphasized that he is ready to take the helm once again and knock the DPJ off the throne.

"Japan is going through some difficult times right now, as our land and territorial waters are being threatened and the economy is stagnant due to deflation and the appreciation of the yen. It is my mission to seize government control to overcome these difficulties and build a strong and prosperous Japan," Abe said at his postelection press conference.

Abe said he would continue to support the tax hike approved by the trilateral agreement struck with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito, and reform the social security system. But he also repeated that in exchange for support, Noda promised then LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki that he would call a snap election "soon."

"Prime Minister Noda's promise was not just to Mr. Tanigaki, it was a promise to the public. I hope and believe that he will keep his word and will hold discussions based on that assumption," Abe said.

But unlike his predecessor, who took a tough stance against Noda that failed to trigger a Lower House dissolution, Abe hinted there would be room for discussing various issues, including the bill needed to authorize the issuance of deficit-covering bonds to finance much of the fiscal 2012 budget — if Noda keeps his promise.

"We are not a party that puts party politics first at any cost. But Prime Minister Noda promised to hold an election soon and that is a gentleman's agreement," Abe said. "As lawmakers, we must both fulfill our promises."

The hawkish politician also stressed his intention to stand firm against China on the Senkaku Islands issue, though he added that Beijing remains an important partner to Japan.

"Japan-China ties are very important . . . In a way, we are inseparable and we must both have that awareness" despite the occasional clash of interests, Abe said.

But Abe is off to a rough start. Although he defeated former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba in Wednesday's runoff, which was restricted to Diet members, the first round was won hands-down by Ishiba, who received an overwhelming majority of the local chapters' votes, which is said to better reflect public sentiment. To avoid splitting the party with his come-from-behind victory, Abe hinted he would give Ishiba a central position in the party.

"I must take the fact that Mr. Ishiba won the majority of the votes from the local chapters seriously. I will talk to him directly, but I think cooperating together is what is demanded of me," Abe said. "I would like to consider a strong lineup that can win the next general election."

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