Third Time Lucky?

Can Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe leave the am­bi­tious po­lit­i­cal legacy he de­sires?

Beijing Review - - WORLD - By Shi Yong­ming

WThe au­thor is a se­nior re­searcher on world stud­ies and an op-ed con­trib­u­tor to Bei­jing Re­view ith Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe win­ning his Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) lead­er­ship elec­tion on Septem­ber 20, he will re­main at the helm for three more years, on course to be­com­ing the na­tion’s long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter post World War II.

But the third term will also be his last one, since ac­cord­ing to LDP reg­u­la­tions, its chief can­not serve for more than three terms. Abe may have no scru­ples now to pur­sue his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. How­ever, Ja­pan’s re­al­ity in­di­cates that Abe faces many hur­dles to his do­mes­tic ob­jec­tives and his diplo­matic goals are also in a state of chaos. The way for­ward will not be a bed of roses.

Frus­trated in vic­tory

There were no sur­prises in the LDP lead­er­ship elec­tion. Com­pared with Shigeru Ishiba, a for­mer de­fense min­is­ter who was Abe’s con­tender, Abe’s as­cen­dancy was ob­vi­ous and could not be chal­lenged. Due to the prime min­is­ter’s so­phis­ti­cated ma­neu­ver­ing skills, most LDP mem­bers chose to fol­low him out of self-in­ter­est. Though plagued by po­lit­i­cal scan­dals, the dom­i­nant sta­tus of Abe could not be shaken in Ja­pan’s cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

De­spite the elec­tion vic­tory, Abe and his sup­port­ers are not happy. In­stead, there is a sense of frus­tra­tion. Abe’s camp had too high ex­pec­ta­tions and put in too much ef­fort, but the elec­tion re­sults be­lied their ex­pec­ta­tions.

Through po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing, Abe pro­longed his term of of­fice and cre­ated a sense of sta­bil­ity in Ja­panese pol­i­tics, a rar­ity af­ter the Cold War. The sense of sta­bil­ity won sup­port for Abe and his camp was con­fi­dent he would win by a huge mar­gin.

They were strongly against Ishiba and wanted his rout be­cause Ishiba cam­paigned on a line of “hon­esty and fair­ness,” at­tack­ing Abe over the scan­dals of Morit­omo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen, two school op­er­a­tors al­leged to have been given fa­vored treat­ment be­cause of ties to the prime min­is­ter.

Abe and his sup­port­ers strengthened in­ter­nal con­trol and can­vass­ing. Although he gar­nered 68 per­cent of the to­tal vote, he failed to reach the ex­pected num­bers both in the Diet, Ja­pan’s leg­is­la­ture, and at lo­cal lev­els. He hauled in 329 votes from LDP law­mak­ers, less than the pre­dicted 340. And he won 55 per­cent of votes from the rank-and-file sup­port­ers, far from the orig­i­nal tar­get of 70 per­cent. All these facts sug­gested that there was a toss-up be­tween Abe and Ishiba, which made Abe less pleased about the vic­tory.

The elec­tion showed Abe’s con­trol over LDP law­mak­ers has weak­ened and the LDP rank and file’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with him has in­creased. Also, the po­lit­i­cal pat­tern in the post-abe era might not un­fold the way Abe wishes. At the Diet level, there is surg­ing dis­con­tent about his long-term rule and au­thor­i­tar­ian style. At the lo­cal level, there is grow­ing dis­ap­point­ment as Abe­nomics has failed to de­liver tangible re­sults.

While Abe is mak­ing plans and hopes to re­tain his in­flu­ence af­ter he leaves of­fice, his wish might not come true. There is spec­u­la­tion that he promised to make LDP pol­icy chief Fu­mio Kishida his suc­ces­sor in ex­change for Kishida with­draw­ing from the elec­tion and sup­port­ing him. But the elec­tion re­sults are not fa­vor­able for Kishida’s suc­ces­sion.

Although Ishiba’s sta­tus rose, it doesn’t mean he would be the next prime min­is­ter. In this elec­tion, Shin­jiro Koizumi, Chief Deputy Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the LDP and the son of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi, drew ex­ten­sive at­ten­tion. Hered­ity has long been an out­stand­ing fac­tor in Ja­panese pol­i­tics with fam­ily lin­eage play­ing a very im­por­tant role. Abe him­self is an ex­am­ple—he is the son of Shin­taro Abe, who was a lead­ing LDP mem­ber. Shin­jiro Koizumi has be­come a ris­ing su­per­star of the LDP. He ad­vo­cated dif­fer­ent voices in­side the party and sup­ported Ishiba. In the fu­ture, Abe’s gov­er­nance might face more chal­lenges.

Chang­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion

Abe is Ja­pan’s most am­bi­tious leader af­ter World War II, and his pol­icy can be sum­ma­rized as re­form­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, forg­ing a strong army, and re­vi­tal­iz­ing the econ­omy. Ja­pan has achieved some re­sults and pro­gressed in build­ing a strong army with its de­fense ex­pen­di­ture and ad­vanced weaponry in­creas­ing in re­cent years.

In terms of re­vi­tal­iz­ing the econ­omy, Abe­nomics can be said to be a fail­ure. From the point of eco­nomic the­ory, each coun­try’s econ­omy is a com­pli­cated sys­tem in to­day’s glob­al­iza­tion. It is ab­surd to try to make a pol­icy based on one or two tra­di­tional eco­nomic prin­ci­ples to re­solve com­plex is­sues.

The Ja­panese econ­omy has ex­hib­ited pos­i­tive signs in re­cent years but this is the out­come of global eco­nomic re­cov­ery. Abe­nomics has been a slo­gan to gain sup­port, and its re­sults are not very pleas­ing, as ev­i­denced by the lo­cal sup­port rate in this elec­tion. Abe vowed to ad­dress de­fla­tion in his fu­ture term, but it was only a move to woo en­ter­prises and save face.

The Ja­panese think Abe’s pri­or­ity in his new term should be to re­store the econ­omy. But Abe seems to have pri­or­i­tized amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, which has been a core goal dur­ing his rule. But he might face a dilemma on this. The harder he pushes, the more re­sis­tance he might meet.

First, LDP law­mak­ers can­not reach an agree­ment on what to amend. The is­sue is whether to have the Con­sti­tu­tion al­low main­tain­ing a na­tional de­fense force and whether the Ja­pan Self-de­fense Force (JSDF) can be re­garded as a form of na­tional de­fense force. The Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids Ja­pan from main­tain­ing a na­tional de­fense force, putting the le­git­i­macy of the JSDF, es­tab­lished in 1954 un­der the Min­istry of

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