JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to become the country’s longest-serving premier after winning a party re-election on Thursday in a victory that could pave the way to realising his dream of amending Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Abe’s re-election means he has extended his reign in office for another three years, giving him the chance of having served as premier for the longest period since Taro Katsura who filled the role between 1901 and 1913.
Party members cheered “banzai”, the celebrate a grinning Abe, who pledged to tackle constitutional reform with the party members.
“The battle is over. Let’s build a new Japan by joining hands and uniting,” he said during his victory speech.
According to the AFP, the 63-year-old Abe secured 553 votes against 254 won by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, a self-professed “military geek”, in a two-cornered fight for the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo, was quoted as saying that the vote was effectively a referendum on Abe’s record that he successfully negotiated.
“But he can’t wholeheartedly welcome the result as he couldn’t win overwhelmingly.”
Nationalist Abe, who came from a prominent political family where both his grandfather and father held power, has weathered through a slew of allegations of cronyism and cover-up scandals which had affected public opinion.
Constitutional reform dream
The majority of voters in Japan have wanted Abe to address the nation’s economy and social security, but the leader is also using the victory to pursue his long-time dream of reforming the post-World War II pacifist constitution.
The charter, which was imposed by the US occupiers, had imposed conditions for the country to “forever renounce war” and effectively prevents the country from having its own armed forces.
Despite strong opposition from Japan’s older generation, Abe insists the changes would merely elevate the status of the well-equipped Self-Defense Forces, and remove constitutional paradox in which it should technically not exist.
“It’s time to stipulate both the Self-Defense Forces and the protection of Japan’s peace and independence in the constitution,” Abe said.
“Together with you all, I want to work on reforming the constitution.”