Abe leadership likely to stay for long haul

Abe leadership likely to stay for long haul

The overwhelming victory by the ruling coalition parties in Sunday's House of Representatives election has allowed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to once again cement his political footing, which had weakened with the resignation of two female ministers after the reshuffle of his Cabinet.

The prime minister, who is also president of the Liberal Democratic Party, will retain his leadership and is likely to build a long-term administration after being reelected in the LDP presidential poll scheduled for September, observers said.

During the election campaign, Abe repeatedly touted the achievements of Abenomics, the package of economic policies implemented by his second Cabinet. He stressed that the ratio of job offers to job seekers has reached the highest level in 22 years, and that wage hikes in April have increased workers' salaries by 2 per cent on average.

Opposition parties criticised negative aspects of Abenomics, stressing the consumption tax rate hike in April and increases in commodity prices as a result of the yen's depreciation. However, voters' expectations that Abenomics will bring about a virtuous cycle in the economy have apparently outweighed such downsides.

With high public approval ratings for his second Cabinet, launched in December 2012, the prime minister decided to have Japan participate in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and to have the government review its interpretation of the Constitution concerning limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence, though some members of his LDP opposed these moves.

Many observers predict that the major electoral victory in the lower house will keep the Abe Cabinet stronger than the ruling LDP in the immediate future.

Some LDP members also see the electoral victory as a foothold for Abe to lead a long-term administration. One junior member said it would be hard to explain to the public why Abe should be replaced in the next LDP presidential election. Since the LDP is the main ruling party, its president is almost certain to be elected as prime minister in the Diet.

According to party rules, a single term as LDP president is three years long, and the same president can serve for two consecutive terms. This means Abe can remain LDP president until September 2018 if he is reelected next year.

Some LDP members are wondering whether Abe will try to extend his presidential term until the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's tenure as LDP president was extended for one year because he led the LDP to a landslide victory in the double elections of the lower house and the House of Councillors in 1986.

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