Ex-Japan defence chief mum on whether he'll join PM race

TOKYO, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Japan’s former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba on Monday steered clear of declaring his candidacy in the ruling party leadership race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, even as opinion polls showed he was the people’s choice to become the country’s next leader.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, said on Friday he was stepping down due to the worsening of a chronic illness, setting the stage for a leadership election within his Liberal Democratic Party.

The LDP president is virtually assured of becoming prime minister because of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.

“I’m not going to tell you whether I will run or not,” Ishiba told Reuters in an interview. (Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Antoni Slodkowski and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher)