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Abe seeks Party of Hope's support for proposed constitutional revision

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he wants to gain the
support of parties including the Party of Hope, led by Tokyo Gov.
Yuriko Koike, on amending the Constitution after the Oct. 22 lower
house election.

In an interview with Kyodo News ahead of the start of official
campaigning on Tuesday, Abe said his Liberal Democratic Party will
seek to cooperate broadly with other parties on proposing a
first-ever reform to the 70-year-old Constitution.

"While deepening the debate within our party, we want to
cooperate with any other party," Abe said.

In its election platform released Monday, Abe's Liberal
Democratic Party said it will aim to make the first-ever amendment to
the Constitution "on the basis of sufficient debate inside and
outside the party" of four specific points.

These points include the question of adding specific mention of
the status of the Self-Defense Forces. The SDF is currently governed
by its own law but is not referenced in the Constitution, Article 9
of which requires Japan to renounce war and the maintenance of "war
potential."

Also Friday, Koike's Party of Hope released its manifesto,
calling for debate on any constitutional amendments, with Koike
saying that Article 9 should be included in the discussion.

Abe said even if the LDP were to maintain a majority of seats in
the lower house, this would not mean that the public has given it a
mandate for its views on constitutional reform. He said each party's
position will need to be put through debate in constitutional
commissions in both houses of the Diet.

In May, he called for the acceleration of debate on an amendment
so that, if approved by the people, it could come into force in 2020.

"I did express a certain target for the schedule...but what we
hope for is first to deepen national debate on the Constitution," he
said.

Koike's Party of Hope, founded last week, aims to challenge the
ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito party on a "reform
conservative" platform.

One area where the parties differ is on a planned increase in
Japan's consumption tax from 8 to 10 percent in October 2019.

While the LDP wants to go ahead with the move, the Abe
administration's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide
Suga, said Friday the hike would be deferred if the economy
deteriorates to the level it was at before Abe returned to power in
December 2012.

The Party of Hope says it would freeze the hike.

Abe, critical of the new party's tax pledge, said, "I do not
know what they are trying to assert."

"We cannot bring economic policies or diplomacy to a
standstill," he said.

Since establishing her party last week, Koike has repeatedly
denied that she might quit her job to run in the lower house
election. Japanese law requires prime ministers to be lawmakers, and
by convention, they need to be in the lower, more powerful house.

"I think she herself will decide, and the voters will judge her
conduct," Abe said.

Abe voiced skepticism about the rapid reorganization of
opposition parties in the past two weeks, saying new party "booms" in
previous decades had "sent politics into (a state of) confusion and
caused the economy to stall."

"Rather than having (our campaign) end in temporary (political)
theater, we will keep doing what's important until the very end and
achieve results, and I think that's what voters are looking for," he
said.

On the economy, Abe said he wants to "spread the trend of
raising salaries far and wide throughout Japan," and help "the
regions maintain their energy and carve out a future."

Abe reiterated Friday that he dissolved the House of
Representatives on Sept. 28 for the election partly to renew public
support for his government's "strong diplomacy" policy on North Korea.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the election campaign
will raise further questions about two scandals that dealt a heavy
blow to his and his Cabinet's approval ratings earlier this year.

He and other officials were accused of involvement in arranging
special treatment for education projects in western Japan led by
acquaintances of the prime minister.

"If (the public) has something further to point out, I will
carefully explain (myself)," Abe said. (Oct. 6)