Thursday, August 31, 2006
TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a conservative known for his tough stance towards China and North Korea, was set to announce on Friday his candidacy to become Japan's next prime minister -- a contest he looks certain to win.
The 51-year-old Abe, who advocates maintaining close ties with the United States while forging new links with Asian democracies, was expected to unveil a policy platform including calls to revise Japan's pacifist constitution, boost intelligence gathering, and put patriotism back into school curriculums.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds an election for party president on Sept. 20. Since the LDP controls parliament's powerful lower house, its new president is virtually assured of succeeding Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose term as LDP chief runs out this month.
"Finally, the day has come. I have been wondering for the past year whether I was qualified to be party president and prime minister, but I have made up my mind and want to express my resolve in Hiroshima," Abe told a news conference.
The remark was widely interpreted to mean he would announce his candidacy after attending a party convention in that southern city later in the day.
The party president will be chosen by lawmakers and rank-and-file members of the LDP.
Media surveys have indicated that Abe already has a hefty majority of their support. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun financial daily said on Friday that more than 70 percent of the 403 LDP lawmakers were set to vote for Abe.
Another 300 votes come from 47 local LDP chapters and the winning candidate needs a majority of the total.
Opinion polls also consistently show Abe well ahead of his rivals, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, in surveys of general voter preference.
That is a key factor since the party is keen to choose a popular leader ahead of an upper house election next summer.
Abe rose to prominence by taking a tough stance against North Korea after Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to past abductions of Japanese citizens. His firm attitudes towards China and South Korea have also won plaudits from conservatives.
He spearheaded Tokyo's drive in July to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea after it test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles.
But analysts and some ruling party lawmakers have voiced concerns that Abe may further strain Tokyo's ties with China and South Korea, already chilled largely by Koizumi's visits to a war shrine which critics see as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Abe has defended Koizumi's pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, and said Beijing's refusal to hold a leaders' summit because of the visits was "absurd".
Japanese media have said Abe himself visited the shrine in April, although he has declined to comment.
Abe says business and politics should be handled separately when dealing with China and advocates closer ties with countries in the region including India and Australia that share "common values" such as democracy and freedom.
Abe's grandfather was a prime minister and his father was a foreign minister.
Written by CNN.
Category: Japan and Politics/Debate.