Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is increasingly likely to run unopposed for a third term as Liberal Democratic Party president in September, despite his Cabinet's falling support rate.
The prevailing mood in the party seems to indicate there are no candidates capable of beating the prime minister.
"I haven't yet made the public feel improvement of business by ending deflation and through economic growth as I promised. Continuity is strength," Abe said on an NHK television program Friday, expressing a strong desire to serve a third term as LDP president so he can continue his policy of focusing on the economy.
Abe's term ends at the end of September. So far, no one else has moved to enter the race.
Only six incumbent LDP presidents have been reelected unopposed. Abe would be the first since then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did so in 2001.
There is some support in the party for Shigeru Ishiba, minister in charge of vitalizing local economies, as well as former LDP General Council head Seiko Noda - but neither is ready to run for now.
The current Diet session was lengthily extended until Sept. 27. The presidential race will likely come in the midst of a Diet session, an unusual occurrence in recent years.
Ishiba, who works for the prime minister in the Cabinet, has shown unwillingness to run for party leader.
"How could a minister talk about something like that when the Cabinet is dealing with important issues?" he said, when asked.
Noda, who is not close to Abe, does not appear to have the support from the 20 Diet members required for candidacy.
"Now is the time to accumulate strength," a mid-ranking Diet member who is close to her said, indicating her supporters are urging her not to run this time around.
The power of LDP party factions has waned, but making a run is made more difficult by the fact that Ishiba and Noda's unaffiliated status obscures who their supporters are exactly.
The time does not appear to be right for a younger challenger to emerge. Many factions have already declared their intention to support Abe.
The factions of Hiroyuki Hosoda and Toshihiro Nikai have decided to back Abe. Fukushiro Nukaga, Taro Aso and Akiko Santo, who are leading their own factions, have also declared their support for the prime minister.
Most of the factions have already turned their focus to the Cabinet reshuffle and LDP leadership changes expected after the presidential election.
The factions of Fumio Kishida and Nobuteru Ishihara have yet to declare their support.
In the Kishida faction, former Chairman Makoto Koga is a supporter of Noda, which has prevented the faction from taking a clear position.
2 power brokers
The Cabinet's declining support rate has cast a shadow on Abe's leadership, but his clear prospects for a third-term win have much to do with support from two influential figures - LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki and General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai.
Nikai is a part of a group of lawmakers who are close to China, which can put him at odds with Abe's firm diplomatic stance against the country. Tanigaki, meanwhile, is dovish on national security.
These interests may have put them at odds with Abe in the past, but both men declared their support for the prime minster early on in April.
The move has made it "hard to openly express dissatisfaction with the prime minister," one veteran lawmaker said, echoing the sentiments of other LDP Diet members.
A presidential race would create opportunities for debates that would allow the party to promote its platform.
"A win by default is a minus in the long term," one party member said.
Still, veteran lawmakers who experienced the LDP's spell as an opposition party appear favor unity under the prime minister who led them back to power.
Campaign in September
The LDP's presidential election committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Thursday.
Party rules stipulate that an election must be held within 10 days of the end of a president's term, so the committee is expected to officially announce the campaign on Sept. 8 and hold a vote on Sept. 20.
If the House of Councillors has not yet passed the security-related legislation currently under debate, then other plans such as announcing the election on Sept. 15 and voting on Sept. 27 could be considered.