Diaoyu Islands

Favourite in Japan's LDP leadership race is son of outspoken Tokyo mayor

With current opposition leader stepping aside, popular favourite to replace him is son of mayor seen as hardliner on Diaoyus dispute

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 3:52am


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The leader of Japan's main opposition party said yesterday he would not seek re-election to the post, boosting the odds that his deputy could instead become Japan's next prime minister, in spite of controversial family ties.

Current Liberal Democratic Party president Sadakazu Tanigaki's decision is broadly seen as boosting the party's already strong chance of returning to power at the next general election. His second-in-command, Nobuteru Ishihara, is secretary general of the LDP and seen as a strong contender for the September 26 leadership race.

Despite standing on the brink of power, Ishihara is arguably most famous as the son of Shintaro Ishihara, the outspoken governor of Tokyo and the man who has brought the dispute with China over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands to a crescendo by successfully urging the national government to buy the islands.

Local media yesterday reported that in addition to Ishihara Jnr, former prime minister Shinzo Abe is likely to join the race. Neither has declared his candidacy.

Nobuteru Ishihara has made no explicit comments about the islands - for a potential future prime minister, analysts point out, he has made few clear statements about any of his positions .

"Ishihara has gained a great deal of support from younger members of the party and he is seen as a symbol of a new generation of LDP politicians," said Go Ito, a professor of politics at Tokyo's Meiji University. "But many people also see him in the context of his father, and even perhaps in the shadow of his father."

Professor Ito says very little has been heard from Nobuteru Ishihara about how he would reform the nation's taxation system, solve its growing economic problems or address the rising costs associated with the world's most rapidly ageing society.

Ishihara's website reiterates the LDP's standard positions on the importance of Japan's defence relationship with the United States, the need for an overhaul of the influence of bureaucrats and calls for a strategic redistribution of wealth - but very little on foreign policy.

"He has never spoken publicly about the Senkakus, but I imagine his ideas will be softer than those of his father - and that is likely to make his father angry," said Ito. "Ishihara is his father's son so clearly he will have been influenced to some degree by his beliefs, but if he does become prime minister then I think he would like to distance himself… from his father's influence."

The LDP is widely tipped to win back power from the Democratic Party of Japan of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in elections that are expected to take place as early as November. The DPJ swept to power in 2009 on promises of changing the way in which the country is governed but little has been achieved in reducing the control bureaucrats wield over policy-making. The government was also badly affected by the global economic slowdown and last year's earthquake and tsunami.

A recent opinion poll conducted by Kyodo News indicated that just 12.4 per cent of people plan to vote for the DPJ in the upcoming elections, while 22.2 per cent back the LDP.

One other LDP member who has a good chance of winning the party's presidency is Shigeru Ishiba, who previously served as defence minister. Ironically, Ishiba's views on territorial disputes and foreign relations are seen as being closer to Shintaro Ishihara's than the governor's son's.