Abe's possible contender to turn down Cabinet post: LDP official

The No. 2 in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and possible rival of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the party leadership race next year has expressed readiness to turn down Abe's offer to serve in his Cabinet, a senior LDP official close to the lawmaker said Saturday.

At a meeting with LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba likely to be held early next week, Abe is expected to tell Ishiba of his plan to relieve him of his party post and ask him instead to become state minister in charge of security-related legislation in a Cabinet reshuffle next month.

But Ishiba has told those around him that it would be difficult to serve as state minister unless Abe accepts Ishiba's strongly held beliefs about national security policy, the official said. The secretary general is expected to convey his thoughts to Abe when they meet.

Ishiba briefly considered taking up Abe's offer, which he was sounded out on in July, but he has since changed course. "The prime minister and Mr. Ishiba have fundamentally incompatible views on security legislation," a lawmaker close to Ishiba said.

The lawmaker said that while Ishiba wants a fundamental law on national security enacted speedily that would allow exercising the right to collective self-defense in a comprehensive manner, Abe has suggested he plans to postpone doing so.

The Abe government approved a reinterpretation of the country's pacifist Constitution in July to pave the way for using force in aiding an ally under attack even if Japan itself is not directly attacked, with plans to introduce a series of bills to parliament to effect the change in defense policy.

On Saturday, fellow LDP lawmaker Kenji Kosaka, who is close to Ishiba, expressed concern over a possible discrepancy between Ishiba's own ideas and what he would have to say as a minister in charge of security-related legislation.

If Ishiba took up Abe's offer, it "could become a factor inhibiting the promotion of his own ideas" in the future, Kosaka told a program on the TBS network.

A majority of lawmakers who support Ishiba are of the view that the former defense minister should continue to serve as party secretary general, a post second only to Abe, who is party president.

Some even say Ishiba should remain without a role in the party leadership and prepare for the presidential race in September next year if Abe strips him of the secretary general post.

Ishiba was reportedly noncommittal when Abe sounded him out about taking up the Cabinet post when they met in July. Ishiba later conveyed to Abe through an intermediary that he was open to any job if offered formally, but those close to Ishiba were trying to talk him out of it if Abe was going to replace him as secretary general, according to party lawmakers.