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Japan's PM appears more confident in 1st year

Publication Date : 23-09-2013


Thursday will mark one year since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party, followed by his inauguration as prime minister three months later. His focus on economic revitalisation has contributed to his success in increasing popular support for the Cabinet while also uniting his Liberal Democratic Party behind him.

Abe has become shrewder and more formidable in running his government than he was during the days of his first Cabinet, according to some observers.

Abe was named LDP president on Sept 26, 2012. Three months later, he took the reins of government as prime minister after his party’s overwhelming victory in December’s general election.

Olympic boost

Abe turned 59 on Saturday. That evening, the prime minister dined out with his wife, Akie, and other guests. As he emerged from the dinner, a group of reporters asked Abe how he was going to spend the last year in his 50s. He replied, “I’d like to make it a good year.”

The second Abe Cabinet scored an approval rating of 65 per cent at first. After peaking at more than 70 per cent, the rating began to fall before rebounding partly due to his successful campaign to have Tokyo win its bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Since taking office as prime minister, Abe has steadily worked to address one of the public’s greatest concerns—economic improvement. He also tried to show the public that he was spearheading efforts to ensure Tokyo hosted the 2020 Olympics, a sporting event expected to boost the Japanese economy in various ways.

“[Abe’s] economic management is not only highly rated by the public, the prime minister is also lucky,” the leader of an LDP faction said.

Some observers are already beginning to think there may be common ground between the second Abe administration and the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, which reigned for five years and five months. In its second year, the Koizumi administration achieved a sharp recovery in its popular support rating by persuading North Korea to repatriate five Japanese abductees to Japan.

Initiatives in personnel affairs

Abe has appointed the most suitable people to important posts, to go forward with the policies and strengthen his own leadership at the same time.

“The prime minister is a reformer,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a breakfast meeting organised by political commentators on Thursday. “He scrapped the vertically segmented administration system of ministries and agencies and turned it into a system so he could make decisions in an integrated manner.”

Suga’s remarks are believed to include Abe’s top-down decision in the appointment of Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda to advance monetary easing, overcoming resistance from the Finance Ministry.

Also standing out among personnel changes since Abe came to power again are changes in personnel appointed during the reign of the Democratic Party of Japan.

On the other hand, Abe has been carefully steering away from making unnecessary personnel changes. There were views that a Cabinet reshuffle and appointments of new LDP executives would take place in September, but this did not happen.

Koizumi, whom Abe sees as a model, declared a policy to keep one cabinet post occupied by a single person when he inaugurated his cabinet in 2001. But pressure from within the LDP forced him to drop the policy. According to sources close to Abe, he does not like to reshuffle the cabinet under pressure from LDP members.

Long-term reign?

There have been some tangible moves based on the prospect Abe’s reign may be long.

During discussions on economic measures over the lifting of the consumption tax from April, Abe insisted on lowering the effective corporate tax rate in the future and gave instructions to the Finance Ministry in that regard. The LDP’s Research Commission on the Tax System and the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, have expressed a cautious approach over lowering of the corporate tax rate, saying it would be difficult to win the public’s understanding after asking them to bear more burden for the consumption tax and keeping the burden for the income tax while easing the burden only on companies. However, Abe has told those around him that if the government does what it has to do then it would pave the way forward, and that he does not care about being criticised.

Abe is believed to have started working on such important issues as constitutional revision and security policies, after overcoming deflation and achieving economic recovery. His term as LDP president lasts until the end of September 2015. The prime minister and those around him are picturing a plan for him to win the LDP presidency again in 2015 and ask for voters’ views on the Constitution and other key issues in the simultaneous upper and lower house election in the summer of 2016.

“We are working strategically until the election in three years time,” Suga has reportedly told those around him.


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