Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will continue to hold the reins of the government, as he has been reelected president of the Liberal Democratic Party for a third consecutive term. Abe must bring about results by tackling a host of challenges both at home and abroad while eliminating inertia and avoiding complacency.
Abe told a press conference: “I’ll take on new nation-building. I’ll put into practice what I promised during election campaigns.”
He won nearly 70 percent of the votes cast in the LDP presidential election. Politics has been stable in the past five years and nine months under his administration while the national economy has been on track to recovery in the meantime. That he has achieved corresponding results also in foreign and security policies was evaluated favorably.
Longest term in sight
Abe scored an overwhelming victory by garnering 80 percent of the ballots cast by LDP lawmakers, but votes for him among rank-and-file party members fell short of 60 percent of the total. It is imperative for Abe to work toward intraparty harmony by fully recognizing some party members’ dissatisfaction with the situation in which Abe dominates power within the party.
Former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba fought well by putting forth his policy of prioritizing regional areas and small and medium-sized companies. He appears to continue to hold a certain degree of voice within the ruling party.
Abe’s term as LDP president will continue until September 2021. If he survives the House of Councillors election set for next summer, he will be within sight of becoming the longest-serving prime minister ever, when his first administration from September 2006 to August 2007 is included.
His long-running administration is entering the homestretch. He should be aware of his responsibility and tackle tasks that could not be realized so far. Social security reform, fiscal reconstruction and constitutional revision, among others, are important agendas to be tackled.
Abe is called on to ponder the priority of these challenges and carry out the tasks strategically by making the best preparations.
First of all, the prime minister needs to tackle economic revitalization as a top-priority agenda.
To realize his challenging goal of raising the gross domestic product to ¥600 trillion, it is essential to further promote a growth strategy and regulatory reforms that help push forward technological innovation. Efforts must be made to eliminate pork-barrel spending in budgets and allocate resources on a priority basis.
Corporate performance and the employment situation have improved, but a virtuous economic cycle, in which brisk earnings lead to wage hikes and expanded personal consumption that contributes to pushing up corporate achievements, has yet to be realized.
It is necessary to look into both the successful results and problematic points of his Abenomics economic policy package and thus put the economy on a stable path by making up for its weak points. By doing this, it will be possible to correct an excessive dependence on fiscal spending and envisage an exit strategy from monetary easing. Abe is responsible for creating an environment for implementation of such policies.
To dispel future anxieties caused by serious population decline and the aging of the population, it is imperative to make medical care services and pension programs sustainable.
Considering the nation’s swelling social security expenses, bold reforms, which would be painful for the people, cannot be avoided. Increasing the burden shouldered by the people and cutting benefits also should be discussed.
The consumption tax rate will be increased to 10 percent in October 2019. Abe has emphasized that he plans to increase the tax rate as scheduled. The public and private sectors must cooperate and ensure the tax rate hike is smoothly implemented.
Presenting a path to the reconstruction of government finances after the consumption tax rate is bumped up is essential.
Aim to revise top law
Abe’s victory in the party presidential election can be said to have solidified the overall direction of the LDP’s position on constitutional amendment. Abe has proposed Article 9’s second paragraph, which stipulates that the nation will not possess “war potential,” should be retained and an addition made that would define the legal foundation for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces. Abe intends to have the LDP present this proposal to the extraordinary Diet session this autumn.
The LDP should deepen discussions on the proposed wording in the commissions on the Constitution in both Diet chambers and keep working hard to gain understanding for the changes.
Constitutional amendment is a long process. A change requires passing both Diet houses with at least a two-thirds majority, and then it must be approved in a national referendum.
Efforts to secure wide-ranging support from opposition parties also are crucial. Thorough preparations, such as determining the timing for initiating an amendment, will be needed.
Abe also must craft a strategic diplomatic approach that can cope with the tumultuous international situation. In addition to resolving North Korea’s nuclear, missile and abduction issues and facing up to the rise of China, it is important to boost the reliability of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
How can Abe deal with the protectionist trade policies of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump? The government should tenaciously exercise its negotiating skills to ensure the nation’s interests are not harmed, while continuing to stress the importance of Japan-U.S. economic relations.
Foster next generation
Concerning the issues of school operator Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution, Abe has invited public distrust of the prime minister. At the press conference, Abe said he would continue to “humbly, respectfully and carefully” engage in running his administration. It is vital that Abe lives up to this comment, fulfills his responsibility to properly explain these matters and works hard to regain the public’s trust.
Some observers have suggested that the Abe administration has shown arrogance and complacency that are caused by its long time in power. Fatigue with the administration has also grown among the people. However, it would be pointless to focus on short-term results and steer the nation in the wrong direction. The prime minister must steadily ensure his policies are put into action.
Abe also faces the issue of nurturing the lawmakers who will take over after his time in power ends. He should place competent people of high caliber in his Cabinet and in pivotal party positions so they can build up experience.
If the human resources in the LDP’s next generation apply themselves diligently, the party can become more vibrant. That will help the administration stay afloat.