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Abe’s dominance belies Japan’s weak politics

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JAPAN goes to the polls on 21 July with half the seats of the Upper House up for grabs. There is little doubt that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are sailing towards their sixth consecutive electoral victory.

But how has Abe achieved such remarkable longevity in the top job? And what implications does this hold?

After taking back the prime ministership in December 2012, and with his current term as leader of the LDP ending in September 2021, Abe is almost certain to become Japan’s longest serving prime minister. On 23 August he will overtake his great-uncle Eisaku Sato as the longest serving post-war prime minister. And on 20 November he will become the longest serving prime minister of any era since the inception of parliamentary politics in Japan during the Meiji Restoration in the 1880s.

This does not mean Abe has not faced obstacles. He suffered a miserable first stint as prime minister in 2006–2007 when his impatient and nationalistic tone and a series of ministerial scandals saw him accused of being out of touch with ordinary Japanese.

This perception has continued to dog him as he rode out the Moritomoand Kake corruption scandals and other accusations that the bureaucracy is — whether under direct orders or surmising (sontaku) cabinet intentions — dispersing favours to Abe’s friends and allies. In its relations with the United States, the Abe government is hanging on for life through a strategy of obsequiousness vis-a-vis President Donald Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on Japanese automobiles and rhetoric undercutting the US–Japan Security Treaty.

And Abe looked impotent as host of the G20 summit in Osaka last month in the fight to prop up the rules-based economic order against the background of the US–China trade war and the Trump-led chaos plunging the global economy toward protectionism and disorder.


© Asian Correspondent