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Monday, September 10, 2018, 13:03
LDP contest demands Abe shift focus
By Guan Zhaoyu
Monday, September 10, 2018, 13:03 By Guan Zhaoyu

Japan PM vying for re-election as ruling party’s leader has to look at livelihoods, downplay debate on constitutional revision


When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Aug 26 that he would contest the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election scheduled for Sept 20, it sparked speculation he is eyeing a third consecutive term as prime minister. This is because the LDP leadership election is seen as an advance contest for Japan’s top political post.

For both Japan and Abe, this election is of great significance. If Abe is re-elected LDP leader, it could pave the way for Japan to have its longest-serving prime minister.

Japan will see a series of major events in the next few years, such as the general election in the country, the G20 Summit in Osaka in 2019, and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Japan’s constitutional referendum, too, is likely to be held in a couple of years. And any leader who presides over these significant events is sure to have his or her political legacy inscribed in Japan’s history. So, for Abe, winning the LDP presidential election is important both politically and historically.

Since being elected Japanese prime minister for the second time in 2012, Abe has been dogged by scandals involving Cabinet officials and family members, and the much-trumpeted “Abenomics”, Abe’s economic policy, has drawn wide criticism for having promised the moon but failing to deliver.

But no leader has appeared strong enough to politically challenge Abe in the past six years. Fumio Kishida, chair of the LDP Policy Research Council and once viewed as Abe’s top rival in the LDP, formally decided in July not to take part in the LDP election. For Abe, the only real contender now is Shigeru Ishiba, former LDP secretary-general.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and Tokyo TV covering 950 people aged above 18 years, about 39 percent of the respondents supported Abe as the next LDP president — with only 31 percent favoring Ishiba. Within the LDP, as high as 65 percent people support Abe while only 21 percent favor Ishiba.

But Abe has a lot of work to do to win the contest. First, he has to garner more local support. In the past, candidates usually chose Tokyo to announce their decision to contest the LDP leadership election. That’s why many found Abe’s choice of Kagoshima Prefecture to announce his candidature — during a visit to a fishing facility — somewhat unusual, if not strange. 

Was he trying to woo local voters in southern Japan? Perhaps. And since Abe’s economic policies have not made much difference to local economic recovery, he is paying greater attention to the grassroots.

Second, Abe needs to downplay the debate on Japan’s constitutional revisions and shift his focus to people’s livelihoods, especially because two candidates contesting the LDP presidential election have made the subject the focus of their debate.

Abe is keen to submit the constitutional amendment draft to the interim parliament in October, so as to fulfill the requirement for holding a national referendum on the Constitution next year to eventually revise the pacifist Constitution. In contrast, Ishiba doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to push for constitutional revision; instead, he hopes to discuss it on the basis of popular public opinion.

A recent Kyodo News poll shows the top priorities for the public are annuity and healthcare, followed by economic policy — constitutional revision is their least concern. To win popular public support, therefore, Abe has to focus on people’s livelihood issues, not on constitutional revision.

Despite the challenges he faces, Abe is still the favorite to win the LDP presidential election. So his main party rival, Ishiba, should start preparing seriously for the election in 2021.

The author is a researcher with the Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. The article was first published in Beijing News.

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