The viewpoint of pursuing political stability and enhancing Japan’s voice in the international community should be emphasized.
The Liberal Democratic Party has begun its discussion, at the Headquarters for Party and Political System Reform Implementation, on extending the term of office for the party’s president.
At the outset of the discussion, Masahiko Komura, the headquarters’ chairman, said, “It is desirable for the party to change its general rules [for the election of the president], rather than establishing an exceptional rule to consider an extension for only President Shinzo Abe.” During the discussion, there were said to have been no arguments directly opposing the extension.
The headquarters will discuss such issues as amending the term of office, from the present rule of “up to two consecutive terms for a total of six years,” to “up to three consecutive terms for a total of nine years.” It aims to reach a conclusion within this year.
The term of office for Prime Minister Abe as party president ends in September 2018, two years from now. Officials within the party, including Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, have shown a positive attitude to the extension. But there are also those with a cautious view, asking, “Is this an issue that needs to be hurriedly discussed now?”
If the party’s general rules are to be revised, it would be valid to have a level-headed discussion on the issue before the end of Abe’s term of office nears.
In 1980, when the party banned its president from seeking a third term, it was against the background of a power struggle within the party. The rule can be said to be a remnant of the heyday of intraparty factions under the then multiple-seat constituency system.
The rule also carries within it the seeds of a problem that casts doubt upon the appropriateness of the system: A prime minister, no matter how widely he or she is supported by the people under the single-seat constituency system, can be forced to resign just because of intraparty logic.
Over many years it has been pointed out that premierships in Japan are generally short-lived as there are many hurdles for a prime minister to clear, such as the House of Representatives election and the House of Councillors election, in addition to the party presidential election.
In particular, from the time the first Abe Cabinet was inaugurated in 2006 until the year 2012, there was a different prime minister every year, which caused a serious stagnation of politics.
We can understand the view that the term of office of the party president should be extended, when also considering such needs as having a prime minister tackle thorny and time-consuming political and diplomatic tasks, such as constitutional revision and negotiations with Russia over the northern territories issue.
The terms of office for the top leaders of foreign countries are relatively long. A U.S. president may be elected to two four-year terms totaling eight years, while the term limits for French and Chinese presidents are up to two terms for a total of 10 years, and for the Russian president up to two terms for a maximum of 12 years.
Under a parliamentary cabinet system, it is common for countries, including Japan, not to fix the term of office for a prime minister. Leading political parties in Britain and Germany do not restrict their leaders from serving in office for an extended period.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in power for more than 10 years.
When considering summit diplomacy, a long-term administration is certainly desirable for building a network of contacts with foreign leaders and for exercising leadership in international conferences.
Even if the term of office for the party presidency was extended, there is no guarantee that the tenure of office for Abe as prime minister would be prolonged. The conditions would remain the same — that Abe, as the party head, has to continue having the party win national elections and continue winning his own party’s presidential race.
The LDP also has rules concerning the recall of the party president, under which an extraordinary presidential election will be held if demanded by a majority of the party’s Diet members and the party’s 47 representatives for Tokyo and other prefectures. As those prime ministers who have lost support within the party would be forced to step down, the rules would serve as a powerful check on the presidency.