Shinzo Abe Secures Landmark Third Term as LDP President
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe defeated former Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiba to secure a historic third term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 20, 2018. His victory — not unexpected — paves the way for him to remain as Prime Minister for up to another three years, with constitutional revision, lackluster economic growth, imperial succession, regional security, and continuing scandals in his government being salient issues for the near future.
LDP leadership elections have two pools of voters: one pool of votes is composed of current sitting lawmakers in both houses of the Diet; the other is made of votes allocated to prefectural chapters of the LDP. With regards to vote counts, Abe easily secured 553 votes against Ishiba’s 254 (a total of 807 valid votes), winning 329 out of the 402 (82%) valid ballots cast by LDP members of the Diet. However, Abe was only able to win 224 votes (55%) compared to Ishiba’s 181 (45%) from the LDP rank-and-file, perhaps representing a dissenting opinion of Abe’s tenure as party and government leader from non-lawmaker LDP members.
Despite the recent scandals plaguing Abe and his Cabinet, it seems that his portfolio of electoral victories over six years, promises in revising the Constitution of Japan, and economic plans — dubbed “Abenomics” — was able to win over lawmakers, with observers noting that Abe will most likely carry his momentum from winning a third term to boost the LDP and quell rank-and-file dissent in the House of Councillors election scheduled for next year.
Abe’s continued tenure as Prime Minister is also a signature accomplishment unto itself. Since the introduction of a new constitution in 1947 after the Second World War, the average tenure of Prime Ministers of Japan has been two years. Should Abe complete his third term as LDP President concurrently as Prime Minister, Abe would break the record for longest-serving prime minister in the history of modern Japan, records currently held by Taro Katsura (served thrice nonconsecutively between 1901 and 1913 for almost eight years) during the prewar Empire of Japan and Eisaku Sato (Abe’s great-uncle who served continuously for over seven years in 1964 to 1972) for the postwar and current State of Japan.
The first task on Prime Minister Abe’s agenda is the upcoming UN General Assembly summit at New York, where Abe will meet with President Trump of the United States. Two key issues that Abe will likely address is North Korea’s ballistic weapons and the return of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean spies during the 1970s. On the other hand, Trump will most likely want to stress a bilateral trade pact by threatening Japanese automobiles and car parts with heavy tariffs in order to keep his public pledge to reduce the U.S. trade deficit.
Another key event to look out for will be the reshuffling of Abe’s cabinet, which Abe said would take place after his return from the UN General Assembly in early October. Japanese media, citing an LDP official familiar with the matter, reports that Abe is expected to keep key ministers — Foreign Minister Taro Kono; Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko — and party leaders — most notably, potential rival and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida — in their current positions while barring LDP members of Ishiba’s faction from any Cabinet posts and sacking Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ken Saito — the Ishiba faction’s leading representative in Abe’s current Cabinet.
Furthermore, despite the controversies swirling around Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Abe is expected to retain Aso as a trusted ally who has backed his Abenomics strategy.
Prime Minister Abe now faces the question of the Japanese public’s appetite for his pledges of constitutional revision amid continued economic stagnation and burgeoning scandals that threaten to undermine his Cabinet. The next national election will take place in July 2019, when half of the House of Councillors — the upper house of Japan’s two-house Diet — is up for election, with Abe’s LDP-led coalition seeking to maintain its two-thirds supermajority. Barring the LDP failing to preserve its seats in 2019 or some new crisis emerging to irrevocably damage Abe’s political powers, the Prime Minister seems slated to lead Japan for another three years.