On September 20th, Shinzo Abe was re-elected Prime Minister of Japan, beating his strong competitor, Ishiba Sigeru. As a result, he could continue his position as Prime Minister until 2021. After the election, many media said that he escaped from danger which was caused by numerous scandals related to him. However, some still doubt his qualification as a prime minister since nothing has clearly been resolved. In particular, in 2018 the leadership election of the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) is important because Shinzo Abe has become the longest serving Prime Minister in Japan and this election would determine the direction of diplomatic issues. Since the political system of Japan might be unfamiliar to us, there will be a short explanation of basic system in Japan politics. Then, let’s figure out what happened in the 2018 leadership election and what will change due to the election result.
All about 2018 Leadership Election of the Liberal Democratic Party
Political System of Japan
Japan has adopted a parliamentary government system in its political field. Accordingly, the National Assembly decides the ruling party (the first ruling party) in proportion to the number of seats in the house of Councilors and the House of Representatives. Chosen by a vote within the ruling party, an elected candidate conventionally takes over as the Prime Minister of Japan. The restriction of the office term also follows the ruling party’s regulation. For this reason, the Liberal Democratic Party's vote is in fact a vote for the Prime Minister who will next lead Japan. Currently, the ruling party in Japan is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and the incumbent Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Shigeru Ishida were selected by about 810 members (of which 405 were lawmakers and 405 local members) in September 20, 2018.
Significance of the Election
First of all, the election for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is meaningful in that Shinzo Abe has become the longest serving Prime Minister since the Showa era. The average term of a Japanese prime minister is about 620 days. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has maintained its rule by decreeing in 1974 that its leaders could only serve two three-year terms. This was amended to three terms of three years in 2017. According to the original rule, Shinzo Abe was unable to run for the election in 2018 as he has been Prime Minister since 2012. However, since the rule was revised in 2017, he was able to challenge his second term.
However, there were hindering factors that blocked Abe until he won the title of the longest-serving Prime Minister in history. There have been a number of scandals during the Shinzo Abe regime. The Abe administration has suffered many hardships, including a slump in approval ratings at one time due to the controversy over his wife's conduct, as well as sex scandals surrounding his cabinet. In addition, Abe's tenure was uncertain since his rival Shigeru Ishida, who had been ahead of Abe in terms of support of local party members, declared to run for the election. Finally, the outcome of the election is noteworthy in that the general elections could change the direction of policies related to issues such as revising Article 9 of the Constitution, which currently causes diplomatic friction in Japan, and negotiations with Russia over the Kuril Island.
Abe scandal: Which Prevented Abe from Going forward
Doubts about Corruption of Private Schools
Abe was especially troubled by private school scandals, one of which was the corruption of the Moritomo Foundation elementary school in February 2017. The corruption scandal of the Moritomo Foundation was revealed by a reporter from the Asahi Newspaper and the council member of the Osaka Toyonaka who wondered why the Moritomo Foundation could have bought public land at a low price. The Moritomo Foundation argued that the land they purchased was used for landfill in the past, making it possible to purchase it at a relatively cheap price. It is a much more controversial case since Akiae Abe, the honorary principal and wife of Shinzo Abe, was found to have been the reason why the Moritomo Foundation was able to purchase the land cheaply. In addition, it appeared that the public document was forged to hide these corruptions. On March 2nd, 2018, the Asahi Newspaper reported that more than 300 words in the documents of the Ministry of Finance had been revised compared to those of the Moritomo Foundation. This is a serious problem in that it is a serious crime that breaks the foundation of democracy. As the media raised numerous suspicions, the Finance Ministry admitted that they fabricated documents and one related government official committed suicide.
Not only his wife but also Abe were in great distress over another school scandal. It is a suspicion of corruption at the Kake Academy. The suspicion is that Abe helped to create a new veterinary school at Okiyama University founded by the Kake Academy in Ehime Prefecture. This created a stir when a note released by Abe’s secretary said the Prime Minister helped a veterinary school to be established at a meeting with an official from Ehime Prefecture, and later a staff member from the foundation was exposed. Many media sources believed that as the president of the Kake Institute's foundation is close to Shinzo Abe, this relationship helped the Kake Institute create a veterinary school. After a series of scandals involving private schools, opposition parties and the public raised their voices for the Abe administration's resignation, which caused a crisis for the Abe administration.
Suspicions of Self-Defense Force Document Manipulation
The credibility of the Abe administration has been further undermined by the additional fabrication of documents by the Self-Defense Forces. In 2017, when the National Assembly questioned the Self-Defense Forces' dispatch of troops to Iraq, Tomomi Inada, who was an officer of Ministry of Defense, said the documents did not exist. However, it was revealed in March that although Abe and the Ministry of Defense recognized the existence of more than 14,000 pages of documents related to the dispatch of troops to Iraq, they just tried to systematically cover them up. In response, Abe apologized at the Councilors Budget Committee meeting in April.
Ishiba Shigeru, and the Differences on Diplomatic Issues
Shigeru Ishiba, Abe's strongest rival
Shigeru Ishiba is the leader of the anti-Abe faction in the Liberal Democratic Party. In the 2012 leadership election of LDP, Shigeru Ishiba received total 199 votes from the members in the first round, failing to win a majority of the votes. Further, he was defeated with 89 votes in the final vote by Shinzo Abe, who received 108 votes. Shigeru Ishiba was appointed as the party's chief executive after being nominated by Shinzo Abe, and he was recommended as the next prime minister because of Abe scandals.
Ambivalence of Two Rivals on Diplomatic Issues
Those two rivals, Shinzo Abe and Shigeru Ishiba, showed differences in terms of revision of the constitution related to the Self-Defense Forces and the diplomatic issues of Kuril Island through speeches to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and discussion program. The revision of the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution aims to create a constitutional justification, which changes the Self-Defense Forces to function as a military force. Japan, as a defeated country in World War II, stipulated in the Constitution that it would permanently give up its military exercises as a means of resolving international conflicts. Currently, this is in Article 9, paragraph 1, of the Japanese Constitution. In addition, paragraph 2 states that Japan must not have land, sea, air force or other power, in order to achieve paragraph 1 of Article 9. Under the Constitution, Japan is currently unable to create a national military. However, Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party created a justification for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces by passing a so-called Security Law that allows them to intervene in the event of attacks by other countries or allies. In addition, the Self-Defense Forces are being deployed to Iraq and other parts of the world for the purpose of protecting international order. However, the Self-Defense Forces still do not function as an official military because there is still some inconsistency in the Constitution. Thus Abe, who seeks to legally own the military by revising the clause, showed his willingness to amend Article 9 of the Constitution, which restricts him from making the Self-Defense Forces work as an ‘official’ military. However, Ishida showed opposition to the amendment, stating that sending troops abroad is not for a war but for protecting civilians in the world. He also emphasized that the amendment of the constitution should follow the referendum.
Also, in response to Russian President Putin's proposal of an unconditional peace treaty recently, Abe reaffirmed the principle of signing a peace treaty after ending negotiations on Kuril Islands. On the other hand, Ishiba negatively assessed the proposal of Putin, saying there must be diplomatic calculations behind Putin's proposal, while showing a firm stance to continue negotiations without any concessions to the territory.
Public Support for Abe, and Victory in the 2018 Election
According to a poll released by the Yomiuri Newspaper on Sunday, which asked who would be eligible for nomination as the next prime minister, Abe received 42 percent and Shigeru Ishiba received 36 percent, which put Abe 6 percent ahead of Ishiba. In addition, the current approval rating of the Abe Administration is 50 percent, which shows that public credibility has recovered somewhat from the public's lost trust due to the scandals. Despite numerous scandals, many media sources are pointing to economic stability as the reason for the rise in approval ratings. Abenomics is one of the key economic policies that Abe implemented in 2013. At one time, there were a large number of economists who negatively assessed the policy, but Abenomics refuted these concerns and contributed to the increase of the Nikkei index from 10,395.18 to 22,471. In fact, it also affected economic revitalization and recorded a growth rate of 1.9 percent in the second quarter of 2018.
On September 12, the Asahi Newspaper conducted a survey of 405 members of the Liberal Democratic Party and found that 337 out of 405 lawmakers supported Abe. Only 50 responded that they supported Shigeru Ishiba. Given the recent trend of public opinion and the results of a survey by lawmakers, the dominant opinion is that it is in fact likely that Shinzo Abe would continue his term. In the September 20th, Shinzo Abe won the election for the leader of the LDP, with 329 votes from the lawmakers and 224 from the local members. At the time of the LDP leadership election in 2006, Shinzo Abe gave his post to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party due to a series of controversies, but it will end in September 2021.
In 2018, which was so controversial, there were several scandals surrounding Shinzo Abe. Even if there were a lot of hindrances, he finally succeeded in maintaining his power. After the announcement of the election results, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his belief that a constitutional amendment to the Self-Defense Forces, one of his long-cherished projects, will be made within his term, which is set to last until 2021. By winning the election, Abe will be able to lay the groundwork for the revision of the Self-Defense Forces. But suspicions still remain about the unresolved scandals. Will the amendment proceed amidst doubts or will it be settled? His path toward the amendment of the Constitution is unlikely to be smooth.< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >