Japan’s Abe re-elected as party head, to stay on as PM


TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected as head of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a landslide Thursday, paving the way for up to three more years as the nation’s leader and a push toward a constitutional revision.
The decisive victory may embolden Abe to pursue his long-sought amendment to Japan’s US-drafted pacifist constitution, although the hurdles remain high and doing so would carry political risks.
“It’s time to tackle a constitutional revision,” Abe said in a victory speech.
Abe said he’s determined to use his last term to pursue his policy goals to “sum up” Japan’s postwar diplomacy to ensure peace in the country.
“Let’s work together to make a new Japan,” he said.
Abe, who has been prime minister since December 2012, has cemented control of his party and is poised to become Japan’s longest-serving leader in August 2021.
He has several policy challenges, including dealing with Japan’s aging and declining population, a royal succession in the spring, and a consumption tax hike to 10 percent he has already delayed twice.
Amid international effort to denuclearize North Korea, Abe seeks to meet with Kim Jong Un to resolve their disputes, including the decades-old problem of Japanese citizens abducted to the North. He faces China’s increasingly assertive activity in the region, and intensifying trade friction with the US that could shake his friendly relations with President Donald Trump.
Abe said he will meet with Trump next week in New York, where they attend the annual UN assembly, to discuss bilateral trade and “the roles Japan and America should play in establishing global trade rules.”
Abe renewed his commitment Thursday to push for a revision to the US-drafted 1947 constitution, a decades-old pledge of the Liberal Democratic Party since its foundation in 1955 and a goal that none of Abe’s predecessors has been able to achieve.
Many conservatives see the constitution as a humiliation imposed on Japan following its World War II defeat. Among them was Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister 1957-1960. Kishi was imprisoned as a suspected war criminal during the US occupation.
Constitutional revision is divisive and it’s unclear whether Abe could get enough votes for passage.
For the public, the constitution is a lesser concern than issues such as pay, education and the high cost of child care, surveys show.
If a revision is rejected in a national referendum, Abe would likely have to step down.
“It’s a goal that would be difficult to achieve,” Abe told a news conference later Thursday. “We’ll have to walk on a thorny path.”