By Riichiro Maeki / Yomiuri Shimbun Political News Editor With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration on track to become the longest-serving among our nation’s governments, the question now turns to how Abe will utilize his solid power base to produce tangible achievements. For the prime minister, this year will serve as a harbinger of his future.
At a party convention in March, the Liberal Democratic Party will make an official decision to extend the term of office for an LDP president, a move that will enable a single party leader to serve in the position for up to three successive terms, or as long as nine years. Under the new term-of-office rule, Abe would institutionally be able to serve as prime minister until September 2021. Thus, this year potentially marks the halfway point in a period of service that began with the launch of his second Cabinet.
The mainstay of Abe’s highly popular administration is the presence of a powerful staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, known as the kantei, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. With the prospect of a long reign for the Abe administration, this year is likely to see further progress made in the concentration of power at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Abe’s “super kantei” retains a firm grip on the right to manage personnel not only of the Cabinet, central government ministries and agencies, but also of related organizations and the Diet. Its strength is unique in the history of Japanese politics since the end of World War II. Such a state of affairs may be subject to criticism. However, the current political situation is the best one could hope for when it comes to dealing with the mountain of problems facing the country both at home and abroad.
The years before the inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet saw Japan’s national strength significantly weakened by a succession of short-lived administrations.
Abe has cited the trust of the international community as an advantage enjoyed by long-serving administrations. “If you’re close to completing your term of office, other nations take advantage of you simply because you’re about to be replaced,” he said.
Abe is aware of his position as “a global leader.” After attending the Ise-Shima summit meeting of the Group of Seven major countries last year, Abe proudly said to his aides, “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [then British Prime Minister David] Cameron said they had to accept [my opinion] simply because it was I who said it.”
In some G-7 nations, power has changed hands, or is changing hands. Britain and Italy have already seen their top leaders replaced since the Ise-Shima summit. The United States and France are scheduled to see new leaders. Abe is therefore the second longest-serving G-7 leader after Merkel. Meanwhile, Merkel will be tested in this respect, too. Her chance of securing a fourth term will depend on the outcome of an autumn election in the lower house of Germany’s Bundestag.
Today, the world is awash in a raging tide of antiglobalism and populism. A succession of general elections and presidential elections will be held in Europe this year, causing concern that international society may become further destabilized. The United States and European nations are increasingly inward-looking, while Russian and Chinese pressure continues to grow.
The values G-7 nations share, including belief in freedom, human rights and democracy, are currently under strain. The role of the Japanese prime minister has never been greater. In this light, the strong political footing of the Abe administration must be utilized.
Problems have also piled up at home. At a New Year’s press conference last Wednesday, Abe cited economic recovery as his government’s “top priority.” Despite promising signs of improvement in the employment situation and some other areas of the Japanese economy, many people still do not feel the economy has truly recovered. Anxieties about the future have not been put to rest. Efforts must therefore be made to steadily carry out work style and other reforms, thereby implementing Abe’s new growth strategy in a visible and tangible manner.
Undoubtedly, the concentration of power potentially comes with corruption. In fact, the prime minister’s kantei has been called “too-powerful” and is also regarded with skepticism in some quarters of the central government offices and the Diet. Incidents that took place last year illustrate this point. The Prime Minister’s Office was said to be at odds with the Imperial Household Agency behind the scenes regarding the idea of enabling the Emperor to abdicate. It was also criticized for adopting a high-handed approach to Diet proceedings, including those for the passage of legislation to lift a ban on casinos.
If the Abe administration loses popular support, the favorable conditions surrounding its management of politics would instantly hit a roadblock. Any signs of arrogance in political leadership should be thoroughly scrutinized.Speech