Abe's third term: A chance for constitutional change?
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected Thursday to a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, paving the way for him to serve as prime minister for up to three more years. Key things to know about Abe and his policies:
NEARLY 6 YEARS IN OFFICE
Abe, who turns 64 on Friday, is a hawkish conservative from the long-dominant pro-U.S. and pro-business Liberal Democratic Party. One of Japan's longest-serving leaders and the first born after World War II, he is a political blue blood whose grandfather was prime minister in the late 1950s and father was foreign minister in the 1980s. Abe has been in office since December 2012, after an earlier 2006-2007 stint ended abruptly due to health problems. Japan went through six prime ministers — virtually one a year — between September 2006 and Abe's comeback in 2012. Political experts say Abe's dominance is bolstered by the strengthening of the Prime Minister's Office, which has allowed Abe and his party executives to monopolize policy and personnel decisions.
Abe will be re-elected prime minister when parliament — where the ruling coalition holds two-thirds majorities — reconvenes, likely in late October. He will need to form a strong government to keep those majorities in elections next summer. Abe enjoys public approval ratings of about 40 percent, high for a leader who has been in office nearly six years. He has solid support from conservatives who back his right-wing agenda. Helped by an economic recovery, he has won repeated national election victories in the absence of a viable opposition.
WHAT HE HAS DONE
Abe takes credit for an "Abenomics" program that has employed a super-easy monetary policy to lift Japan's economy from years of deflation and boost job and stock indicators. Critics say the effects are gradually wearing off and benefits have not trickled down to consumers. He has expanded the international role of Japan's military by reinterpreting the war-renouncing constitution to allow troops to defend allies under attack. While maintaining a close alliance with the United States, he has bolstered military cooperation and weapons development with Britain, Australia, France, India and some other Asian countries in response to China's military activity in the region and North Korea's nuclear and missile threat.
Abe plans to stake his final term on a revision of the constitution, drafted by the U.S. during Japan's post-World War II occupation. The public overwhelmingly welcomed the democratic constitution, but many conservatives trying to restore Japan's prewar values see the charter as a U.S. imposition and symbol of Japan's humiliation. "I will tackle constitutional revision, a challenge that nobody could achieve 70 years after the war, to pioneer a new era for Japan," Abe said in a debate last week. He wants Japan's military forces to be explicitly permitted by the constitution. Media polls show divided public opinion, but that most people oppose any change under Abe and want the economy and social security issues to be prioritized instead.
Abe has two other long-unresolved goals. One is the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea, including the settlement of the issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea decades ago. The other is the resolution of territorial disputes with Russia and the signing of a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities. He also faces trade issues with the U.S., an aging and declining population in Japan, and an imperial succession next year.
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