Abe to Run Unopposed in Japan's Ruling Party Election

  • Premier's re-selection as ruling party chief unopposed
  • Passing defense bills would enable Abe to refocus on economy

Shinzo Abe is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in more than four decades after standing unopposed in his ruling party’s leadership election.

Abe’s re-selection Tuesday as president of the Liberal Democratic Party comes as protests flare over unpopular legislation to expand the role of the Japanese military. Abe isn’t required to hold a general election for another three years. If he stays in office until 2018, he would become the third-longest serving prime minister since World War II.

Potential rival Seiko Noda dropped out of the leadership race after failing to pick up the necessary number of nominations.

Putting the defense bills to bed after months of wrangling would open the way for Abe to return his focus to the economic policies that helped secure his unexpected comeback in 2012. An earlier stint as premier was cut short by parliamentary gridlock and illness. Slow progress toward his goals of escaping deflation and restoring confidence in the world’s third-biggest economy may be further complicated by recent market turmoil in China.

"Winning unopposed makes him look like the only game in town," said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. "It was important for Abe to win with the biggest margin possible -- which he did -- as Abenomics isn’t working yet and the security legislation isn’t popular."

Shrinking Economy

Data today showed Japan’s economy shrank an annualized 1.2 percent in the second quarter. The benchmark Topix stock index, which has swung between gains and losses Tuesday, has tumbled more than 15 percent in less than a month from an eight-year high.

Public faith in the policies dubbed "Abenomics" has faded -- with 37 percent of respondents to a Nikkei newspaper poll published Aug. 31 saying they had a high opinion of the policies, while 45 percent said they didn’t.

With opposition parties in disarray, Abe has nonetheless managed to claw back some of the public support he lost over the defense bills, which are set to be enacted by the end of the parliamentary session on Sept. 27.

He incorporated a wide range of views in his statement on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat. He also scrapped a plan for a futuristic Olympic stadium amid public frustration over the expense amid ballooning public debt. The Nikkei newspaper survey found 46 percent of voters supported him, up on 38 percent in a similar poll the previous month.

If Abe remains prime minister until September 2018, he will overtake his mentor Junichiro Koizumi. The longest-serving was his great-uncle Eisaku Sato, who stayed in office for a total of more than seven years until 1972. Shigeru Yoshida is close behind, also serving just over seven years in the 1940s and 1950s.

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