- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

TOKYO — Japan’s hawkish chief Cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, announced yesterday his intention to stand in next month’s ruling-party leadership election, immediately becoming the front-runner to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr. Abe, 51, seen as a politician in the mold of Mr. Koizumi, who steps down next month, could be expected to push ahead with reforms instituted by the prime minister to heave the world’s second-biggest economy out of its long slump.

But there are worries that the election of a nationalist may further damage Japan’s relations with its neighbors. China and Japan already are grumbling over plans by Mr. Koizumi to pay a visit tomorrow to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors World War II war dead, some of whom are considered war criminals outside Japan.

Like his mentor Mr. Koizumi, Mr. Abe has paid highly public visits to the shrine in the past.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds a majority in both houses of Japan’s parliament, and its new leader will automatically become prime minister when Mr. Koizumi’s term expires next month.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper called Mr. Abe’s election a virtual certainty after reporting that most of the main factions in the LDP were now behind him.

Mr. Abe told supporters in his Shimonoseki constituency of his intention to stand for the leadership. His maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was prime minister for three years from 1957, and his father, Shintaro Abe, was foreign minister in the 1980s. Mr. Abe “inherited” his father’s seat after his death in 1991.

Last month, Mr. Abe suggested that a first strike by Japan to pre-empt an attack could be viewed as self-defense. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution forbids it to wage war or maintain an army, but the interpretation of this has been stretched to allow a military force for the purposes of self-defense.

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