More than three-quarters of parliamentary lawmakers within Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's bid for a third consecutive term as party president, according to Kyodo News poll results compiled by Sunday.
Of the 405 LDP lawmakers across both houses of the Diet, 310 or 76.5 percent said they plan to vote for Abe in the September election, with many citing the success of his economic policies and diplomatic tact.
The results look good for Abe, 63, who has been in power since late 2012, and could become Japan's longest-serving premier, together with a stint between 2006 and 2007, if he secures another three-year term. That would allow him to see through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as well as give him time to pursue his long-sought goal of revising the pacifist Constitution.
Among Abe's rivals, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 61, had the support of 24 lawmakers while Seiko Noda, 57, the current minister of internal affairs and communications, could only muster one vote of confidence other than her own.
The election is expected to be officially called on Sept. 7 with voting to be held Sept. 20. The candidate who receives the majority of votes from an electorate split 50-50 between Diet members and regional party members will wins.
(From left, Shinzo Abe, Shigeru Ishiba and Seiko Noda)
Factions within the party often play a large role in securing support, and with at least one faction having yet to declare its support for a candidate, the votes could shift. Sixty-eight lawmakers either said they were undecided, declined to answer, or said they would vote as told by their faction leader.
But rivals will be hard-pressed to overtake Abe's considerable lead, with Noda struggling to even find the 20 nominations needed to run.
Abe's popularity apparently stems from concerns that a leadership change would destabilize Japan's international footing at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to erect steep tariffs and North Korea appears to be opening up to dialogue.
"No one else can deal with President Trump," said one lawmaker in explaining his support for Abe.
His "Abenomics" policy package including aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan has helped lift corporate profits and drive down unemployment, though another LDP lawmaker said those favorable effects have yet to trickle down to regional economies.
Among those who did not support Abe, some cited a series of school-related scandals that have sparked allegations of cronyism by the premier and those surrounding him.
His denials of foul play "have not gained the understanding of voters," a member of Ishiba's faction said, suggesting the issue could hurt the LDP in next year's upper house election.