The Liberal Democratic Party kicked off its presidential election on Sept. 14, with five candidates battling to lead the main opposition party and gain the inside track at becoming Japan’s next prime minister.
Voting will be held on Sept. 26, and no clear-cut favorite has emerged early in the campaign.
The candidates are: Shinzo Abe, 57, a former prime minister; Shigeru Ishiba, 55, a former LDP policy chief; Nobutaka Machimura, 67, a former chief Cabinet secretary; Nobuteru Ishihara, 55, the LDP secretary-general; and Yoshimasa Hayashi, 51, a deputy policy chief.
The incumbent, Sadakazu Tanigaki, decided earlier this week not to seek re-election.
The LDP currently leads the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in public opinion polls, so the new LDP leader could gain the post of prime minister after the next Lower House election.
The five LDP candidates have shown few differences in policy, meaning that their election strategies will likely be the deciding factors in the Sept. 26 vote.
The election will be determined by the 199 LDP Diet members as well as 300 votes distributed by proportional representation based on the votes received by each candidate at the prefectural level.
Ishiba is eyeing the large number of prefectural votes and banking on rank-and-file members to push him over the top.
Recent surveys, including one by The Asahi Shimbun, have shown that the public favors Ishiba on the question of who should lead the main opposition party.
Ishiba, who does not belong to any LDP faction, hopes that winning a large majority of prefectural votes will prompt LDP Diet members to vote for him on Sept. 26.
"The LDP is not only for Diet members,” Ishiba said in a speech at LDP headquarters after he filed his candidacy papers. “The party also has to change in a way that will convince even ordinary party members."
Touching upon the ongoing dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands, Ishiba said: "Japan's independence, sovereignty and territory are being threatened. The LDP has to take over control of government because the nation is facing a crisis."
Ishihara is taking a much different approach in terms of election strategy. He has already gained the support of a number of LDP factions and influential party elders. As the oldest son of outspoken Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, the LDP secretary-general is also widely known and he will likely argue that his name appeal will help LDP candidates in the next Lower House election.
Although his decision to run was a major reason Tanigaki decided to bow out, Ishihara said he would follow the course set by Tanigaki in reaching an agreement with the DPJ and New Komeito on simultaneous reform of the social security and taxation systems.
"Tanigaki passed on the baton to a younger generation, and there will be no future for Japan unless there is unity across age groups," Ishihara said.
The large number of candidates and the lack of an immediate favorite could lead to a runoff on Sept. 26 between the top two vote-getters. Only Diet members will be eligible to vote in the runoff.
Although Machimura heads the largest LDP faction, he does not have an advantage because of the candidacy of Abe, a member of the same faction.
In arguing that he should be chosen as LDP president, Machimura will tout his experience serving as chief Cabinet secretary, foreign minister and education minister.
"I will create a strong Japan and stand at the forefront for revitalizing the LDP as a conservative party,” Machimura said in the opening speech of his campaign. “Now is the time to utilize the vast experience I have."
Abe was considered the new hope for the LDP when he took over from the immensely popular Junichiro Koizumi as party president and prime minister in September 2006. But Abe abruptly resigned a year later after a disastrous performance in the Upper House election.
He will again run on a strongly conservative stance, calling for constitutional revision and reform of the educational system.
"As prime minister, I learned various things, including setbacks,” Abe said in his speech. “I am resolved to face the problems before Japan by taking advantage of that experience."
Hayashi is not only the youngest of the five candidates, but he is also the first Upper House member to run in the LDP presidential system since the format requiring lawmakers’ signatures to file a candidacy started in 1971.
"We have to do everything possible to revitalize the Japanese economy. I have decided to enter the difficult challenge of a presidential election with the strong resolve of wanting to be the one who revitalizes the economy," Hayashi said in his speech.
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