TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to another three-year term as leader of Japan’s ruling party on Thursday, as he aims to become the country’s longest-serving leader in modern times.
Abe, who turns 64 on Friday, won 553 of the 807 valid votes cast. His challenger, 61-year-old former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, garnered 254. The election was decided by parliamentary members and rank-and-file party members, with each controlling half of the total votes.
The contest was a rerun of the leadership race in September 2012, during which Ishiba led Abe in the first round, but ultimately lost in the runoff vote. Abe ran uncontested in a September 2015 election for a second term.
The election was held following a rule change that now allows prime ministers to serve for three consecutive terms instead of two, granting Abe his wish to preside over the 2020 Summer Olympics, which he played a large part in bringing to Tokyo.
Because the Liberal Democratic Party owns a majority in both houses of parliament, the head of the party is the leader of the country.
Abe previously served as prime minister for one year between 2006 and 2007, but was forced to step down due to low popularity ratings and personal illness, contributing to the party being ousted from power in 2009.
The LDP returned to power in the December 2012 electoral landslide, and since then has won four subsequent national elections. Abe now has a shot at becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
He and his cabinet have received solid public support over the past six years. In an August Nikkei opinion poll, his cabinet had a 48% approval rating against 42% who disapproved.
In recent years, Abe’s administration has been marred by political scandals, including allegations that he and his aides have given favors to close supporters, including granting a college license application and approving purchase of government property. The allegations sent approval ratings briefly plummeting below 40% last year, with those disapproving above 50%.
Attention is already shifting to what Abe hopes to accomplish during his last term. Revising the U.S.-drafted constitution to give the Self-Defense Forces — the nation’s de facto military — clear statutory recognition is his and the party’s long-held goal. The change is widely seen as a long shot, but Abe is still expected to try and push it through.