Japan’s main opposition party chooses a new leader today after a campaign that stressed the need to overcome deflation and take a harder line against China.
Polls show the race, which comes ahead of national elections Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda must call by August, will be closely contested by former defense chief Shigeru Ishiba, Nobuteru Ishihara and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ishiba’s strong regional support may not be enough to secure a first-ballot majority, forcing him into a runoff, the Asahi newspaper said on Sept. 24, citing its survey of party members and lawmakers.
“The fight is between Ishiba and Abe,” said Jeff Kingston, head of Asian studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. “The LDP is trying to figure out strategically which makes more sense.”
Polls indicate the party may win the next parliamentary elections, increasing the chances its leader will become Japan’s seventh prime minister since 2006. The LDP faces pressure from Noda to help pass legislation funding this year’s budget or imperil an economic recovery threatened by falling exports and the world’s largest debt.
Former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura and ex-defense chief Yoshimasa Hayashi are also running in the LDP race to replace Sadakazu Tanigaki.
All of the candidates except Hayashi have said they favor building on islands at the heart of an escalating territorial dispute with China. The vice foreign ministers from both countries failed yesterday in Beijing to ease tensions prompted by Japan’s decision this month to buy the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Noda has no construction plans for the islands and has called for calm in both countries.
The LDP agreed to support legislation doubling the five percent sales tax to cope with Japan’s debt in exchange for Noda’s promise to call elections “soon.” The prime minister, who was re-elected head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan on Sept. 21, has yet to say when that might be.
A Yomiuri newspaper poll published Sept. 18 showed 31 percent of respondents planned to vote for the LDP in the proportional representation section of the next election, compared with 14 percent for Noda’s DPJ and 16 percent for a new party formed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.