Wednesday 23 August 2017

Rule change in Japan could make Shinzo Abe longest-serving post-war leader

Shinzo Abe with his wife Akie Abe in Tokyo (AP)
Shinzo Abe with his wife Akie Abe in Tokyo (AP)

Japan's ruling party has approved a change in party rules that could pave the way for prime minister Shinzo Abe to become the country's longest-serving leader in the post-Second World War era.

It is a remarkable turnaround for Mr Abe who lasted only a year during an earlier stint as prime minister, in a country that had six premiers in the six years before he returned to office in December 2012.

Analysts say Japan's 62-year-old leader learned from his first term in office, when he focused on divisive issues such as constitutional revision and patriotic education that contributed to his early downfall.

This time, he has made an expansionary economic policy with a catchy name, Abenomics, central to his election message.

"The interesting thing is that formerly Abe did not seem to be interested in economic policy," said Yu Uchiyama, a professor of politics at Tokyo University.

"Abe was a very conservative politician, and he was interested in a more right-wing agenda like constitutional amendment. But right after he got power for the second time, he did not put forth such a right-wing agenda. Instead he introduced and emphasised the economic issue."

That does not mean Mr Abe has given up on goals such as revising the constitution, which was drafted by a US-led occupation force after the war. However, he needs to win over a reluctant public - any amendment requires approval by two-thirds of the legislature and a national referendum.

His Liberal-Democratic Party, at an annual convention on Sunday, rubber-stamped a decision by its leaders last autumn to allow the head of the party to run for a third three-year term, rather than be limited to two.

In Japan's parliamentary system, the ruling party leader generally becomes the prime minister. The change would allow him to stay until 2021, if he can maintain the support of his party and voters, rather than step down in September next year.

Mr Abe, now in his fifth year in office, is Japan's sixth longest serving prime minister. The record-holder is Eisaku Sato, who led the country for more than seven years from 1964 to 1972. He is also the brother of Mr Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister from 1957 to 1960. If Mr Abe can hold on, he would surpass Mr Sato in August 2020.

Mr Uchiyama said the PM has maintained his hold on power in part by taking advantage of electoral and administrative reforms that strengthened the prime minister's control of his party and the bureaucracy.

AP

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