A record premiership

A record premiership

Giancarlo Strocchia
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Having won his third mandate, a historic achievement in Japan, Shinzo Abe is poised to implement the key points of his government strategy, namely to push for constitutional reform towards a less "pacifist" stance in order to counter the threat from Pyongyang and to relaunch nuclear power to tackle Japan's energy crisis

In the end, Abe won out, and not just in terms of the election results, which have secured his Liberal Democratic Party and its allies a two-thirds majority in Japan’s Lower House, but also for setting a record as the longest serving premier of the Land of the Rising Sun. Shinzo Abe gained what could be defined as a "strong mandate", his third so far, and succeeding where some of his counterparts, like Theresa May in Great Britain, have partly failed. And it was Abe who, with perfect timing, called a snap election around a month ago, after dissolving the Japanese parliament a year before it was due to expire. The context suddenly appeared favorable to him. The tensions generated by the North Korean threat, and an opposition –the newly formed Party of Hope led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike– still busy defining its political identity, must have seemed more than reasonable conditions to try and secure a strong enough leadership to enable him to embark on the almost historic bid to amend the constitution. "Abe’s reading was right that this was the right timing because the opposition was not ready," said former Japanese ambassador to Washington Ichiro Fujisaki. "People have no other choices, really."

No longer a time for pacifism

It was the General Council of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party which, in November 2016, had made it possible for its leader to serve his country with a third mandate by approving the proposal to extend the number of tenures from two to three. Abe, now 62 years old, previously served as Japan's prime minister in 2007, a post he held for a little over a year and from which he officially stepped down due to ill health. After three years in opposition, he was back as Prime Minister of Japan in 2012, after winning the elections as leader of the conservative party. In theory, he could now continue as head of government until 2021. A veritable record. After a considerable drop in popularity due to allegations that he had favored some friends in business deals, Abe took advantage of the disarray among opposition parties and of a recovery in his approval ratings to call early elections. A whirlwind 12-day election campaign, presented as a referendum on the management of the Japanese economy and on defense against North Korean provocation, did the rest. In actual fact, the Japanese economy has grown steadily during the last one and a half years. Now, bolstered by his new parliamentary majority, Abe is set to request a memorable change to the Japanese constitution. Seventy years since it entered into force (back on May 3, 1947), the constitution, which currently enshrines the complete renunciation of war under article 9, could now be revised in a less pacifist direction, prompted by the need to defend the country from the North Korean threat. Abe has already announced a reform process that is due to be completed by 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics.

Increasing reliance on nuclear energy?

As they reiterated during the election campaign, Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party regard nuclear energy as a stable source of energy and have already announced their intention to restart Japan's still idle nuclear reactors, among other things. Current government targets call for an energy mix in which nuclear power accounts for about 22 percent of installed capacity. The plan also calls for the use of liquefied natural gas (27 percent), coal (26 percent) and renewable energy (22-24 percent). To phase out nuclear power, Japan would need to significantly increase thermal power generation. Meanwhile, the use of renewable energy is growing, particularly thanks to the development of solar energy, after the introduction of a feed-in tariff system in 2012. The share of renewables in the energy mix is thought to have already reached 15 percent. According to the new government, the gradual phasing out of nuclear power would lead to a rapid increase in the cost of renewable energy, making the decision to abandon nuclear reactors still premature.