24.09.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Shinzo Abe Headed Japan’s Ruling Party for the Third Time

On September 20 this year, at the congress of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), the incumbent Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was chosen its President for the next 3 years for the third time after he received 69% of the vote. His competitor Shigeru Ishiba was left with the remaining 31%.

This result came as no surprise since all the latest public opinion polls continually revealed a sustainable strong support of the acting Cabinet by the population, as well as the popularity of Shinzō Abe within the ruling party. Even though there were relatively short fluctuations in these figures in connection with certain events both in the country and abroad.

If Shinzō Abe does not leave the Prime Minister’s office over the next 3 years due to circumstances of whatever nature (such as a failure of the LDP that he heads at the parliamentary elections), then he will top the rating of the Japanese politicians occupying this post for the longest time over the period in the Japanese history (of almost 150 years) that began with the so-called Meiji Restoration.

His name is among the most often mentioned ones in our articles describing various elements of the political puzzle that is forming in the Indo-Pacific. It is natural to surmise that the New Eastern Outlook reader has a more or less adequate idea of this politician of international significance.

His competitor for Japan’s ruling party leadership deserves mentioning too. We are speaking about the country with the third largest economy in the world (or fourth if we continue to treat the EU as a single political and economic international player) whose presence is becoming increasingly prominent in the global political processes as well.

Therefore, the question of who is heading the ruling party of this country is no idle curiosity. This question arose from the participation of Shigeru Ishiba in the recent party elections who would have not only replaced Shinzō Abe as the LDP leader, but also as the Japanese Prime Minister.

Shigeru Ishiba is a prominent figure in the Japanese political circles. Like almost all of the notable Japanese politicians, he comes from a family which is an integral part of the Japanese political élite. Shigeru Ishiba is 61 years old at the moment, that is, 3 years younger than Shinzō Abe.

Both of them (having a status of ‘young politicians’) came into the spotlight already in the mid 2000s. Apparently, it would be rightful to say that it was at that very time that their competition for the Japanese political leadership began. Shinzō Abe became the Prime Minister for the first time in 2006 – 2007, while Shigeru Ishiba served as the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Administrations of Yasuo Fukuda and Tarō Asō in 2008 – 2009.

Shigeru Ishiba contended for the LDP presidency several times (and so far has not succeeded). Before the last time, he lost out to the very same Shinzō Abe in 2012 and had to be content with the post of the Secretary General (i.e. the executive officer) of the LDP (that had recently taken over the government) and remained in the post until August 2016.

One can state with confidence that the recent repeated failure in contending for the LDP leadership will not dampen the spirits of such an ambitious politician as Shigeru Ishiba who is determined to head the largest party and (if its electoral success carries on) the government of the country.

In this relation, let us note that the third election of Shinzō Abe as the LDP President is a certain exception to the rule and he surely will not enjoy such an exception at the next party elections. That is, one can naturally assume that, as soon as Shinzō Abe quits big politics, Shigeru Ishiba, a single-minded samurai that he is, may become the LDP President. However, there are other contenders in the party who can replace the incumbent leader.

On the identification scale (which is rather relative both in Japan today and in the whole world) for political parties and politicians, Shigeru Ishiba is conventionally placed to the right of Shinzō Abe. Though, the latter is often considered the right wing (or even far right) leader of the Japanese political world (for instance, in China).

The conventional nature of placing Shigeru Ishiba and Shinzō Abe on the aforementioned scale is particularly obvious regarding their almost imperceptible differences on amending the 9th Anti-Military Article of the National Constitution, which has been in effect since 1947.

Apropos, let us point out that this (seemingly home policy) issue has a considerable foreign policy component since its resolution in a country like Japan will most assuredly affect the further developments in the Indo-Pacific.

Among the strong reasons for the LDP elite’s choosing not to change horses in mid-stream on September 20, there was probably the consideration of the coming midterm elections for the Parliament’s Upper Chamber (due in July 2019) which could hardly continue the almost uninterrupted period of the party’s electoral triumph since late 2012.

Half of the Upper Chamber members (comprising 242 members in total) are to be re-elected, of them 81 seats belong to the LDP and its coalition partners.

At the same time, it seems that the ruling party has more and more ground for considering the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) as a real competitor. The CDP was formed from the centre-left wing of the former leading opposition Democratic Party (DP) that split after the failure at the early elections for the Parliament’s Lower Chamber that took place on October 22 2017.

These elections were initiated by Shinzō Abe in order to demonstrate that he maintained the vote of confidence of the people to continue his policy concerning the economy and constitutional reforms. The following summer, the question of this confidence would be subject to a serious trial.

Even more so since the 54-year-old (and very experienced) politician Yukio Edano who used to occupy various posts in the Japanese Government became the leader of the CDP. As of September 11 this year, he paid a 6-day visit to the US during which he was going to have negotiations with several representatives of the US establishment. Probably, as the leader of one of the perspective parties of the US’ key regional ally.

The meeting with Bernie Sanders, who has similar ideas and is alleged to advocate ‘Swedish socialism,’ became the main event of the visit. Let us remind you that Bernie Sanders participated (and succeeded at first) in the US Presidential Election primaries in the Democratic Party in 2016 and at the eleventh hour lost out (and in a strange way too) to Hillary Clinton who proceeded to represent the party at the elections.

Getting back to the recent re-election of Shinzō Abe, it is critical to point out that it took place against the backdrop of various scandals involving him personally and his inner circle as well. The most recent one (involving Shigeru Ishiba and Shinzō Abe) broke out a week before the party congress and reflected the difficult situation within the LDP.

Given these conditions, it was crucial for Shinzō Abe to receive more proof that his position is strong within the country before proceeding to meet the leaders of the world’s powerful countries such as Donald Trump (in late September), Xi Jinping (in October) and Vladimir Putin (which is scheduled for November – December, according to the preliminary information). It seems that all the 3 leaders will be satisfied with the results of the aforementioned elections.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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