Abe should enhance policymaking capability to retake reins of govt
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "retry" comes with a heavy task--retaking the reins of government.
Abe was elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday, defeating four contenders, including former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Shigeru Ishiba.
Ishiba won the first round of the race by securing a majority of local chapters' votes, but Abe turned the tables in a runoff in which only Diet members were eligible to vote.
Depending on the results of the next House of Representatives election, it is highly likely that Abe will become prime minister. After winning the presidential election, Abe expressed his resolve, saying: "I'll make all-out efforts to retake the reins of government. I'll make a strong Japan." He needs to devise a strategy and policy to revive the nation starting now.
Senkaku issue changes race
The fact that the runoff was fought by Abe and Ishiba, neither of whom head their own faction, illustrates the changes in LDP presidential elections, which in the past were characterized by alliances of intra-party factions.
Initially, LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara was seen as the likeliest to win the LDP presidency, but Abe and Ishiba expanded their support among local rank-and-file members. This is obviously related to China's high-handed behavior toward Japan over the Senkaku Islands.
During the presidential election campaign, Abe and Ishiba stressed the importance of diplomacy and security policy, saying they will resolutely protect Japan's land and territorial waters.
However, we cannot expect sticking to a hard-line stance to improve Japan's relationship with China.
When he was prime minister, Abe rebuilt the relationship with China, which had deteriorated under the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Abe agreed with Beijing to seek a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests."
Amid growing anti-Japan sentiment in China after the Japanese government's purchase of three of the Senkaku Islands, concrete measures to rebuild the Japan-China relationship are now called for again.
Abe indicated that he will work on strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance by enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and also that he would work to amend the Constitution. In addition, he has a favorable attitude toward reviewing a 1993 statement concerning so-called comfort women, which was issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
These are all reasonable aspirations. We urge Abe to present concrete steps to realize them.
It was unfortunate that there was little in-depth discussion on the challenges Japan currently faces during the party presidential race.
Show clear stance on TPP, energy
Regarding the issue of whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, Abe has been wary of clarifying his stance. "We first have to enhance our bargaining power. Then we should consider whether [joining the TPP] would serve the interests of the nation," he said.
A considerable number of LDP members oppose Japan's joining the TPP, so we assume Abe was concerned about the opinion of such lawmakers. However, if Abe really plans to lead the party in regaining power from the Democratic Party of Japan, he must prepare measures to enhance the competitiveness of the nation's agricultural sector and pave the way for the nation to join negotiations for the TPP.
On the energy issue, it was appropriate for him to express negative views on the DPJ-led government's "zero nuclear" policy. However, that is not enough.
Abe should lead discussions within the party over an energy policy capable of securing a stable supply of electricity for the nation--a purpose for which safe nuclear power plants are necessary--and come up with a viable counterproposal.
Six years ago, Abe became the first Japanese born after World War II to assume the post of prime minister. Under the slogan of "departing from the postwar regime," he revised the Fundamental Law of Education and upgraded the Defense Agency to the Defense Ministry. His other achievements include the enactment of the National Referendum Law, which stipulated procedures to amend the Constitution.
However, under his leadership, the LDP suffered a humiliating defeat in the House of Councillors election in July 2007, which divided the Diet as opposition parties took control of the upper house. Soon after the election, Abe resigned from his post.
It is now said that one of the reasons Abe decided to quit was a chronic disease--ulcerative colitis--but the abrupt resignation left a strong impression with the public that Abe had irresponsibly thrown away his administration.
Abe will be tested on whether he can wipe away his negative image of being plagued with health problems and a lack of vigor.
Abe's first task as new LDP president will be to appoint new party executives.
In the first round of the presidential race, Ishiba secured a majority of votes cast by local chapters. At a press conference held after being chosen as the new president, Abe said he will "take this fact seriously." The results showed that Ishiba is highly popular at the local level. It would be reasonable for Abe to give him an important post.
During his time as prime minister, Abe was criticized for appointing too many of his sworn friends and aides to important Cabinet posts. We would like to carefully watch to whom Abe will give senior party posts.
Avoid unproductive confrontations
How Abe will steer the LDP in the next extraordinary Diet session will be important in determining his fate as the new leader.
The ordinary Diet session closed earlier this month after the upper house adopted an opposition-backed censure motion against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The LDP has said the fact that the upper house has adopted the censure motion will carry over to the next Diet session. However, Abe showed a flexible attitude on the censure motion at the press conference, saying that his party will not necessarily refuse to participate in all Diet deliberations.
It seems that Abe wants to hold Noda to his promise to dissolve the lower house "sometime soon," which the LDP regards as a gentlemen's agreement, in exchange for the LDP's cooperating with the Noda administration on such matters as the passage of a special bill that enables the government to issue deficit-covering bonds in the extraordinary Diet session. We believe this is a constructive approach.
Abe was plagued by a divided Diet when he was the prime minister. It is time to put an end to unproductive confrontations between the ruling and opposition parties, such as opposition parties refusing to participate in Diet deliberations and justifying it with the passage of a censure motion, and political paralysis caused by such confrontations.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 27, 2012)