Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Shigeru Ishiba, a former party secretary-general, conclude their first joint news conference after campaigning starts for the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election. (Saki Rin)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears heading toward an overwhelming victory in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election on Sept. 20 and extending his tenure as prime minister, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.

About 80 percent of the ruling party’s Diet members who have decided how they will vote said they preferred Abe over Shigeru Ishiba, the former LDP secretary-general who is the only other candidate in the race, according to the survey.

Abe is seeking his third term as LDP president. He ran uncontested in the party's previous election three years ago.

The Sept. 20 election involves 405 LDP Diet members as well as local party members and supporters.

Each lawmaker’s vote will be counted as one. The prefectural chapters will also have a combined total of 405 votes, which will be distributed proportionately after ballots are counted in each prefecture and a national total is calculated.

The Asahi survey found that 337 LDP lawmakers plan to vote for Abe, while only 50 are backing Ishiba.

Five major LDP factions have already expressed their support for Abe, although there was one defector among them who will vote for Ishiba.

The only faction with a noticeable split in votes is the one headed by Wataru Takeshita, chairman of the party’s General Council. The faction was unable to decide on a single candidate to support so faction members are, in principle, free to decide how to vote on their own.

Twenty-seven Lower House members in the faction said they would vote for Abe, while six will choose Ishiba, the survey showed.

Upper House members in the faction had earlier agreed to back Ishiba in the election. Sixteen of them said they will vote for Ishiba, but three plan to pick Abe.

Abe also had an overwhelming lead among “factionless” LDP lawmakers, with 55 saying they would vote for the prime minister, compared with only seven for Ishiba.

The Asahi also contacted the secretaries-general of all 47 prefectural chapters but could only obtain responses from 21.

Of them, 19 said they preferred Abe.

The only two prefectural chapters in the survey that are backing Ishiba are Tottori, where the challenger is from, and neighboring Shimane.

The other 26 prefectural chapters apparently followed the instructions from Takeshi Noda, chairman of the party committee administering the presidential election.

In a document dated Aug. 28, Noda asked prefectural chapter secretaries-general to refrain from responding to surveys about the LDP presidential election on the grounds that their positions could influence the voting of party members in their prefectures.

An official at LDP headquarters in Tokyo explained that each prefectural chapter had to remain neutral because they are in charge of administering the voting by party members and supporters within their prefectures.