Abe Launches Bid for Party Leader Vaunting Economy, Constitution

W460

Japan's Shinzo Abe Monday defended his economic record and pledged a controversial reform of the country's post-war constitution, as he launched his campaign for another term as head of his ruling LDP party.

Abe is seen comfortably winning the September 20 vote against his sole challenger -- former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, which would put him on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier.

A victory would effectively keep the hawkish Abe in power for another three-year term at the helm of the world's third-largest economy, with no real political party opposition to speak of.

"It's time to tackle constitutional reform," vowed Abe, adding that he aims to submit a reform bill to parliament later this year.

Article nine of Japan's constitution, forged in the aftermath of World War Two, forces the pacifist country to "forever renounce war" and stipulates that armed forces will "never be maintained".

This creates a headache for Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF), a well-equipped military stuck in a constitutional grey zone.

With regional tensions still high, allies have urged Japan to bolster the SDF's role but former foes in Beijing, Seoul and Pyongyang would likely react furiously.

Abe also vaunted the record of his "Abenomics" policy, which combines ultra-loose monetary policy with fiscal stimulus in a bid to pep up the former Asian economic powerhouse.

"The ratio of job offers to seekers is at a record high... we were able to regain a decent economy," said Abe.

With two massive international sporting events coming up -- the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics -- Abe said his policy of boosting tourism is also "working as an detonator" to boost local economies.

On the diplomatic front, Abe reiterated he was "determined to meet face-to-face" with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to resolve the issue of kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the Cold War period by Pyongyang agents.

His rival Ishiba has identified demographic concerns and the regional security threat from nuclear-armed North Korea as the two biggest challenges facing Japan.

"What I want to do is revitalise the economy and the core of this task is to revitalise the countryside," Ishiba said Monday.

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