Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Why Abe Will Not Get a Third Term
KURASHIGE Atsuro / Journalist

March 20, 2018
Suppose we gathered political reporters in Japan and asked them to fill in a questionnaire.

The questions are twofold: “Will Prime Minister Abe Shinzo win a third term as head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the upcoming election in September?” and “Will he be able to revise Article 9 of the Constitution during his term as Prime Minister?”

As for Abe getting re-elected for a third term, most reporters would probably answer “Yes.” After all, numbers are what matters in politics, and judging from the relative influence of the factions within the LDP, Abe supporters currently make up a comfortable majority in the 408-member parliament.

How about his chances of revising Article 9? Here, we would see a sudden drop in the number of reporters who answers “Yes” with confidence. The common perception is that the hurdle against such a revision remains formidable. Consequently, most of the reporters are likely to say that while Prime Minister Abe may get his third term, it would be difficult for him to revise Article 9.

By contrast, my answer to both questions are “No.” I believe that Abe’s third term and the constitutional revision are inseparably linked.

If elected to a third term in addition to his two previous terms, Abe will be in office for a total of ten years, making him the longest serving Prime Minister since the Meiji era, which ended in 1912. It also means he would need an accomplishment commensurate with the length of his tenure. The revision of Article 9 certainly fits the bill, except for the fact that Abe’s proposal doesn’t seem anywhere close to becoming a reality.

Abe is proposing to add a clause to Article 9 that legitimizes the Self Defense Forces (SDF) without revising the existing first clause that renounces war, or the second clause that forbids Japan from maintaining a military force and denies the right of belligerency of the state. While the proposal may seem moderate enough at first glance, there are numerous holes in its logic that become apparent upon closer scrutiny. The political stakes for overcoming its shortcomings are too high.

The proposed revision would further aggravate the inconsistency of having to define the SDF as a non-military force under the current Constitution. And that’s not all. Abe has stressed that the significance of his proposal lies in recognizing the SDF, and that there will be no change whatsoever in its role. Such an explanation might work at an emotional level, but with no underlying fact warranting legal action, it casts doubt on the very need for revising the Constitution, and thus fails to stand up to the principle of law.

On the political front, Abe faces four more hurdles. First of all, building a consensus within the LDP will be no easy feat. Ishiba Shigeru, the party’s former Secretary-General who is expected to run for the LDP presidency, is unlikely to withdraw his own argument of deleting the second clause from Article 9 and positioning the SDF as a military force. Ishiba is likely to challenge Abe in the election by making this a major issue. Does Abe have any chance of winning this battle of logic?

Meanwhile, the Komeito party – the LDP’s coalition partner – has reservations about the very idea of tampering with Article 9. As a party that has long advertised itself as an advocate of peace, the Komeito must feel it has already kept its part of the bargain by supporting the government’s new national security law of 2015, which gave Japan partial approval to exercise the right of collective self-defense. From the standpoint of the Komeito, that was tantamount to revising Article 9, and anything more would violate the terms of the coalition.

Then there is the Constitutional Democratic Party. The leading opposition party considers the new national security law itself as unconstitutional and seeks its repeal, leaving absolutely no room for compromise.

Even if Abe were to overcome the hurdles posed by the LDP and Komeito, it seems unlikely that a constitutional reform proposal facing do-or-die resistance from the opposition could win a majority of the votes in a national referendum. This fourth hurdle is risky in that once rejected by a “No” vote, Abe and his government would be forced to stand down.

Abe’s proposal is not only impossible to implement, but may spell the end of the administration if he insists too strongly on pursuing it. In other words, it is a major headache that could hardly be a cause for justifying a third term. However, it can’t be thrown out the window, either. At most, Abe could flash the proposal from time to time in the way of a pocket square. But a pocket square would hardly qualify as a prop for playing out a third term scenario. Even LDP legislators must come around to that view. Thus, according to my analysis, there will be no third term for Abe.

There are other reasons to doubt he will get a third term, namely the self-conceit and weariness that have emerged from Abe’s prolonged grip on power.

The Prime Minister has been dogged by two scandals - the Moritomo case surrounding the sale of state-owned land and the Kake case involving government approval for a veterinary medicine school. While the circumstances may be different, both of them are influence-peddling scandals in which the most powerful man in Japan is seen to have granted favors to his close friends. It was the result of self-conceit, and has delivered a body blow that will continue to sap the strength of the administration.

Meanwhile, weariness towards the Abe administration has been voiced by elder politicians in the conservative camp. Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro is among those who have changed their tune on Abe. Since retiring as a legislator, Koizumi has led a “zero-nuclear power plant” campaign, and has claimed in the past that “Japan can realize a zero-nuke agenda if Prime Minister Abe embraces change.” Now, he says he “expects nothing from Prime Minister Abe,” and has begun to turn his back, describing Abe’s chances of getting a third term as “too close to call.” This has come from the very man who had promoted Abe in his own government, who may well be considered the godfather of the Abe administration.

Kamei Shizuka, the former head of the LDP’s Policy Research Council who calls himself Abe’s “big brother” in politics, has also made a point of Abe’s self-conceit. Kamei predicts that a warning signal will begin to flash over Abe’s prospects for a third term, if Ishiba and another candidate, Kishida Fumio - who currently heads the Policy Research Council – both enter the race, thereby forming a first and second runners-up alliance against Abe. In an election for the LDP presidency, a second round of voting takes place if the first round fails to produce a clear winner, and there have been numerous instances in the past where candidates who came in second and third in the initial round joined forces to defeat the leading candidate. This was the case in the 2012 contest for the LDP presidency, in which Abe - who was the runner-up in the first round of voting - overturned Ishiba’s lead in the second round to become Prime Minister.

Undeniably, Abe still has the upper hand. Politics depends on the numbers. Yet, there is a real possibility that the numbers may shift over the course of the next seven months. Here, we should be reminded of yet another hard-and-fast rule of politics - you never know what’s around the corner.

Atsuro Kurashige is Expert Senior Writer at Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

倉重篤郎 / ジャーナリスト

2018年 3月 20日

















一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟