Former Japanese defence minister challenges PM Abe as party chief

Tokyo: Former Japanese defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, 61, on Friday announced a long-shot bid to unseat Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as leader of the country’s ruling party in elections in September.

Abe is expected to win another term as head of the Liberal Democratic Party with Ishiba likely to be his only challenger, reports said. Polls suggest the Premier is supported by 70% of LDP members and winning the vote would put him on the path to becoming Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister ever.

Despite the odds, Ishiba said he had decided to challenge Abe to “restore confidence in the government, which should be at the service of citizens”. A defence hawk, Ishiba favours a revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution along more radical lines than Abe, and has even controversially suggested Japan should consider having nuclear weapons.

Abe will likely face another potential challenger, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, already ruling out a bid. Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda is also considering to run, reports said.

Abe’s popularity ratings

  • Earlier this year, Abe’s popularity ratings slumped with his administration mired in two cronyism scandals.
  • But Abe has recovered from the rows, and is viewed as a shoo-in to win the internal election in September, which is held every three years.
  • In 2015, the PM ran unopposed, and in 2012 he beat four other contenders. According to surveys, Abe has already locked in 70% of the 405 votes from LDP members of Parliament.

(With inputs from agencies)