Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe, the presumptive next prime minister, is a conservative hawk who openly proposes revising the war-renouncing Constitution to bolster Japan’s military capabilities.
Abe became Japan’s youngest postwar prime minister in September 2006, at age 52. After about a year in office, however, he abruptly stepped down, an exit he later attributed to an intestinal disease.
The manner of his resignation and his subsequent widespread image as a leader who abandoned the top post have dogged him in the years since. But Abe, 58, now says he has overcome the disease, ulcerative colitis, thanks to a new drug.
In September, he returned to the LDP helm, voicing his resolve to return Japan’s foreign policy to a strong footing amid soured ties with China and South Korea over competing territorial claims in the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.
Abe has expressed his readiness to rename the SDF as the National Defense Force through a constitutional amendment, and to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a use of force banned under the government’s traditional interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.
During his stint as prime minister, he was credited with helping to thaw Sino-Japanese relations by visiting Beijing soon after his inauguration, the first trip to China by a Japanese prime minister in five years. Bilateral ties had chilled over the repeated visits of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe also engineered changes to the Fundamental Law of Education to place a greater emphasis on instilling a sense of patriotism among students, enacted referendum procedures to facilitate constitutional amendments, and bumped up the Defense Agency to full ministry status to increase its clout inside the government.
But he drew criticism from abroad, particularly in South Korea, for denying there was any proof the Imperial army had coerced women and girls into sexual servitude. His remarks appeared to revise a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who acknowledged Japan’s forces had forced females to work at military brothels during the war and apologized to the victims, many of whom were from the Korean Peninsula.
The LDP suffered a crushing defeat in the July 2007 House of Councilors election, and the ruling coalition led by the party lost its majority in the upper chamber. Abe’s resignation as prime minister less than two months later paved the way for the LDP’s ouster from power in 2009 by at the hands of the Democratic Party of Japan.
Born into a family of prominent politicians, Abe’s political views were largely influenced by his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime Cabinet member who was detained as a suspected Class-A war criminal after the end of World War II. Kishi was never indicted or tried, and after his release from prison in 1948, he eventually went on to became prime minister.
Abe is eager to fulfill his grandfather’s dream of revising the Constitution, arguing it was drafted under the strong influence of the United States during the Allied Occupation.
LDP looks ahead to expected events
The following are major political events cited by Liberal Democratic Party officials, after Sunday’s Lower House election:
Dec. 26 — LDP President Shinzo Abe to be elected prime minister in a special Diet session and launch new Cabinet.
January — Abe to visit Washington to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Late January — Diet convenes.
Late February — Extra fiscal 2012 budget to be passed and fiscal 2013 budget submitted to legislature; Abe makes first policy speech as prime minister in the Diet.
March 11 — Great East Japan Earthquake’s second anniversary.
April 8 — Masaaki Shirakawa’s term as governor of the Bank of Japan expires.
Early May — The fiscal 2013 budget clears the Diet.
Mid-June — Abe to attend Group of Eight summit in Britain.
July 28 — Half of Upper House members’ terms expire.
While serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary in 2002, Abe became involved in negotiations to resolve North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s, gaining the spotlight with his tough stance toward Pyongyang.
He was appointed LDP secretary general the following year and, as Koizumi’s right-hand man, was promoted to chief Cabinet secretary in 2005, landing his first senior Cabinet post.
Abe has regularly visited Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines 14 convicted or accused Class A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead. Though he did not visit the shrine in his official capacity as prime minister, he angered China and South Korea recently by visiting it after he became LDP chief. Many parts of Asia view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism and aggression.
Coalition off and running
Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe was working on forming a new government and will meet with the leader of ally New Komeito to discuss their coalition following his party’s victory in Sunday’s Lower House election, LDP lawmakers said.
Abe will meet with New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi on Monday to formalize their plan to form a ruling bloc based on an accord the secretaries general of both parties reached Sunday, they said.