LDP secretary general hints at 4th term for Abe as party president

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could serve a fourth consecutive term as party president ― a comment viewed by some in the LDP as part of Nikai’s strategy to remain secretary general of the party. 

Nikai played a leading role in amending the LDP’s charter to allow party presidents to serve three consecutive terms, paving the way for Abe to win a third term in 2018.

His remarks will likely affect the plans of LDP members who are manoeuvring to find a leader to succeed Abe.

“Given Abe’s current strong efforts, [a fourth term] is fully possible. If we can’t find a suitable successor to replace him, I see no problem [with extending his tenure as party leader],” Nikai said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Nikai also referred to Abe’s reputation, saying: “He has won approval within and outside the party, and especially from foreign countries. I have no doubt he is working his hardest and meeting the expectations of LDP members.”

It was the first time Nikai publicly referred to a possible fourth term for the prime minister, though Katsunobu Kato, chairman of the General Council and a close aide of Abe, has mentioned the possibility.

Some LDP members suspect that Nikai’s remark is the opening gambit in his strategy to remain in the post of secretary general following the House of Councillors election this summer.

That is because Nikai was able to keep his post after the LDP presidential election last year by moving quickly to pledge his support for Abe ahead of the poll and creating the momentum that swept the prime minister to a third term.

Abe himself can avoid a lame duck administration should it become more likely that he will serve a fourth consecutive term. The prime minister’s third term as LDP president will expire in September 2021.

A former Cabinet minister said Nikai made his remark after surmising the prime minister’s intentions.

Nikai’s faction lacks a prominent candidate to succeed Abe. As a result, Nikai wants Abe to remain in office to allow his faction to remain a mainstream force in the party, observers said.

Meanwhile, LDP Policy Research Council chairman Fumio Kishida ― who has expressed a desire to succeed Abe ― made comments that are seen as an attempt to head off the move toward a fourth term. 

“For one thing, it is clear that the current LDP charter limits [party presidents] to three consecutive terms,” Kishida told reporters at the Diet Building on Tuesday.

Former LDP Secretary GenSecretary-Generalba, who challenged Abe in the presidential race last year, reportedly commented, “It should be impossible for momentum to grow [for a fourth term for Abe].”

“The people are fed up with the Abe administration, and they don’t want a fourth term,” said an LDP member of Ishiba’s faction.