Shinzo Abe Will Be Japan’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister

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Last month, Shinzo Abe emerged the victor in Japan’s national race for prime minister. Winning the race for prime minister is nothing new for Abe, as he has held the position for over a decade. However, with last month’s victory, Abe is poised to become the nation’s longest-serving prime minister. Come November, he will officially break the record previously set by Taro Katsura, a beloved Japanese political figure who served three terms as prime minister from 1901 to 1913.

Abe won another term as prime minister when his political party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), gained 71 of the 124 seats available in the nation’s House of Councillors, which seats 245 legislators. The remaining 53 seats went to the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), which directly opposes the LDP. The LDP’s strengthening of power in the House of Councillors follows a landslide electoral win in 2017’s elections for the Japanese Parliament’s lower house.

Abe has stated that, in his new term as prime minister, he hopes to reform social security, bolster the economy, expand the aging and shrinking workforce, and focus on free education. Additionally, Abe hopes to address trade negotiations with the U.S. and a nationwide rise in consumption taxes.

The prime minister had also hoped to directly modify the Japanese Constitution, a goal for which he had set a 2020 deadline, but the LDP does not yet have enough House of Councillors seats to do so. The party would need a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution.

As the LDP increases its efforts to achieve enough parliamentary seats to modify the country’s constitution, it is taking other roads towards its lofty goal. The LDP has already drafted legislation that would change the constitution. It is also stepping up efforts to discuss constitutional amendments with the CDP and other Japanese parties. 

These parties are struggling to form a united anti-LDP front, even despite electing far more women candidates than the LDP did in last month’s elections. Some experts even point to the LDP’s fractured opposition as a major factor in the party’s sweeping victory last month, with the LDP’s long-running track record of economic and political stability further bolstering its strength in the eyes of Japanese voters.

A major factor in the opposition’s split — and, by extension, Abe’s record-breaking time serving as prime minister — occurred in 2017 when Japan’s Democratic Party dissolved into the right-wing Party of Hope and the unit now known as the CPD. In that year’s election — the same one in which the LDP achieved landslide victories in Parliament’s lower chamber — this dissolution split the anti-LDP vote so unevenly that Abe easily solidified and consolidated his power.

As Abe gains more power, he may crawl closer to being able to amend the Japanese constitution. In doing so, he hopes to eliminate provisions written in the aftermath of World War II. As a result of the country’s loss in the war, the Japanese constitution highly restricts the nation’s military options. Should Abe gain the ability to amend the constitution, he would add something called the “Self-Defense Force” to the country’s military. Abe will regardless pursue diplomatic relations with North Korea and Russia.

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