LDP victory puts Abe in driver's seat to pick up where he left off

December 17, 2012


The decisive victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House election for the Liberal Democratic Party places its leader, Shinzo Abe, 58, on the road back to becoming prime minister, five years after abandoning the post.

In September 2006, he became the youngest prime minister after the end of World War II at age 52. However, in the July 2007 Upper House election, the LDP suffered a humiliating loss and two months later Abe abruptly resigned, citing health reasons.

Facing strong criticism for his "dereliction of duty," Abe has traveled around Japan for close to five years to atone for his sudden resignation.

The LDP was forced into the unfamiliar role of main opposition party after the 2009 Lower House election that allowed the Democratic Party of Japan to gain control of government. However, the DPJ-led government showed its inexperience and the once rock-solid alliance with the United States was soon on shaky ground. Japan was later struck by the unprecedented Great East Japan Earthquake as well as the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Pushed by those within the LDP who wanted him to take another stab at the top post, Abe decided to run in the September LDP presidential election, which he decisively won.

Abe is a political thoroughbred, as his father, Shintaro, served as foreign minister, and his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, served as prime minister, as did his great-uncle, Eisaku Sato.

When Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister, Abe was made LDP secretary-general in 2003 and then served as chief Cabinet secretary in 2005, demonstrating he was on the fast track to higher office.

During his first term as prime minister, Abe sought to create a "beautiful nation" as well as move away from the regime that was created after the end of World War II. He argued for a strengthening of the alliance with the United States as well as for allowing for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

During the recent Lower House campaign, Abe again stressed the need to exercise that right.

On Nov. 23, before the official start of the campaign, Abe gave a speech in Gifu city in which he said, "Let us assume Japanese and U.S. naval ships are defending the Senkaku Islands and the U.S. ships come under attack. Whether or not the Self-Defense Forces can come to the help of the U.S. military will depend on whether the right of collective self-defense can be exercised. If it did not help, that would mean the end of the Japan-U.S. alliance."

Abe has also argued for changing the name of the SDF to one of a national military.

At a Nov. 25 speech in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, Abe said, "Let us put an end to the sophistry of referring to the SDF when speaking to a domestic audience and calling it a military when talking to other nations."

Abe has also long been known for taking a tough stance against North Korea by, for example, being active in wanting it to resolve the abduction of Japanese nationals.

He was quick to criticize Pyongyang after it launched what is believed to be a long-range ballistic missile on Dec. 12, despite strong opposition to such a move from the international community. At a speech in Nagasaki, Abe said, "It is unforgivable. It violates United Nations resolutions. Besides simply criticism, there will also be a need to seek a resolution that imposes even stiffer sanctions against North Korea."

After Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said he hoped North Korea would be quick about launching the missile, in a veiled reference to a desire to return to his home district during the election campaign, Abe called for his dismissal. North Korea had announced the launch would took place sometime between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.

Regarding the announcement by Fujimura of how the government was responding, Abe said, "The news conference by the chief Cabinet secretary will not convince the international community in any way."

Regarding the abduction issue, Abe has said, "By demonstrating our will that unless Kim Jong Un resolves this issue there is no future for North Korea, we will make a major policy change and make the judgement to resolve the abduction issue. We will carry out diplomacy for such purposes."

However, in other foreign policy areas, Abe has been known for taking more cautious stances.

At the Nov. 30 debate among party leaders, Abe said about the Senkakus issue, "We are considering the permanent basing of civil servants there, including the construction of a boat landing."

Meanwhile, on other issues such as historical understanding between Japan and China, Abe has been less provocative, perhaps aware that such stances could come back to hurt him once he became prime minister.

Abe was asked about visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes Japan's war dead as well as 14 Class-A war criminals.

"While I held strong misgivings for not having been able to visit while I was prime minister, that is all I can say about the issue at this time," he said.

When he first served as prime minister, Abe chose China as the first destination for a foreign visit. He reached an agreement with then Chinese President Hu Jintao to create "a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests," including in the economic sphere.

Abe helped to improve Japan-China relations that had worsened because of Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni and that, in turn, softened the image of Abe as being a hard-liner toward China.

During the LDP presidential campaign in September, Abe said a review should be made of a 1993 statement that expressed an apology and remorse by the central government on the "comfort women" issue, in which foreign women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

At the same time, Abe said, "By relying on the knowledge of specialists, we should also think about how we are to make future generations aware of (the truth)."

One reason for his apparent backtracking may be the criticism directed at Abe about his lack of awareness of human rights from not only South Korea, but also the United States, when in March 2007, when he was first prime minister, he said "there is no evidence of coercion" of the women into working as comfort women.

A major difference from his last time as prime minister is Abe's emphasis on economic measures throughout the latest campaign.

"We will promote measures to move out of a deflationary state that go well beyond anything ever implemented by past LDP administrations," he said. "The Bank of Japan should implement limitless monetary easing measures."

Among some of the measures he called for were "the limitless printing of currency" and "having the BOJ buy up all government bonds used for public works projects."

In its campaign platform, the LDP called for signing a policy accord with the BOJ that would set an inflation rate target of 2 percent.

Abe has also called for a return to the days of the old LDP before Koizumi decided to slash spending on public works projects. He has called for public works projects that were needed in order to boost the economy and revitalize local communities.

Days before the Lower House election, Abe contributed an article to the monthly Bungeishunju magazine in which he laid out a plan for creating "a new nation," a change from his past call for a "beautiful nation."

He criticized the foreign policy and national security policy under the DPJ government as "a disaster" and said his administration would not only drive out deflation, but also rebuild foreign policy and national security.

He argued for restoring Japan from history after the end of World War II. The ultimate goal for Abe is constitutional reform. The LDP has long called for the drafting of a new Constitution and it has included a draft of constitutional revisions in its campaign platform that clearly calls for the establishment of a national military.

Abe has long said the Constitution forced on Japan by the U.S.-led Occupation had to be changed.

However, political reality makes such a development highly unlikely.

Two-thirds of the members of both chambers of the Diet have to agree to submitting constitutional revision proposals. When Abe first served as prime minister, the opposition parties had a majority in the Upper House, meaning that not only was constitutional revision out of the question, but his administration also had problems even passing bills through that chamber. That was one factor behind his sudden resignation in 2007.

The ruling coalition does not control two-thirds of the seats in the Upper House. The first major hurdle for Abe in fulfilling his long-held dream of constitutional revision will be the Upper House election to be held next July.

However, even before tackling that thorny issue, the Abe administration will have to deal with such pressing issues as stimulating the economy, rebuilding the nation's fiscal condition, raising the consumption tax rate, revising the social security system, reducing the number of Diet seats, rebuilding after last year's natural disasters and dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

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Shinzo Abe responds to questions on Dec. 16 as election results showed his Liberal Democratic Party was headed for a landslide victory. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Shinzo Abe responds to questions on Dec. 16 as election results showed his Liberal Democratic Party was headed for a landslide victory. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

  • Shinzo Abe responds to questions on Dec. 16 as election results showed his Liberal Democratic Party was headed for a landslide victory. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)
  • Shinzo Abe greets supporters after a campaign speech in Nagoya on Dec. 14. (Yoichi Kawatsu)

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