Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday won a new term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after Seiko Noda failed to gather enough support from LDP Diet members to file her candidacy.
Because she could not get 20 lawmakers to sign their names and no other candidate stepped forward, the LDP won’t bother to hold the election that had been scheduled for Sept. 20.
The deadline for filing a candidacy was 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, but Noda held a news conference to tell reporters she had already given up on running.
Abe’s new term as LDP president will last three years, presumably extending his term as the prime minister as well.
There is no term limit for prime minister, but a general election of the Lower House must be held at least once every four years, and a new prime minister is elected each time by members of the chamber.
“I tried to run for the presidential election, but I was unable to accomplish that,” Noda said.
Abe’s win will give momentum to his drive to enact the controversial security bills next week and greatly expand the legal scope of overseas military operations by the Self-Defense Forces.
Noda, a moderate liberal, was regarded as a potential opponent of Abe’s security reform drive.
But the former chairman of the LDP’s Executive Council has toned down her criticism of Abe’s security policies, apparently fearing it could draw strong repercussions from LDP lawmakers working hard to get the bills through the Upper House.
The focus of attention in the political arena has already shifted to how much popularity Abe will lose by bulldozing the security bills through the Diet, and how much of it he can recover before the Upper House election next summer.
Media polls have suggested that most voters are opposed to the bills. Ramming them through the Diet will considerably push down the approval ratings of both Abe and the LDP.
Half of the 242 Upper House members will face re-election next summer. Abe is thus expected to refocus on economic measures to boost the party’s popularity until then.
” ‘Abenomics’ is still only halfway to its goals,” Abe told reporters later in the day at the prime minster’s office when asked for comment on his winning another term as LDP president.
Abenomics refers to the set of three “arrows” of his economic program, namely ultraloose monetary policy, aggressive government spending and structural reforms to raise the country’s growth potential.
“We’d like to deliver the effects of the economic measures all across the country,” he said.
For Abe, winning the Upper House election is critically important because he, together with other right-leaning elements, is trying to win enough seats in the chamber to launch a national referendum to revise the pacifist Constitution.
Initiating a constitutional referendum requires support from two-thirds of the lawmakers in both Diet chambers.
But the road ahead for Abe does not look easy, as many economists and market participants are beginning to say that Abenomics may be running out of steam.
On Tuesday, the government released revised gross domestic product figures for the April-June period showing that the economy shrank 1.2 percent on an annualized basis.
Japan relies heavily on China, the nation’s No. 1 trading partner, in terms of combined value of exports and imports.
Recently, the situation in China has been looking shaky due to last month’s crash of the Shanghai stock market amid fears the country may no longer be able to maintain its miraculous economic growth of recent years.
Domestically, meanwhile, the consumption tax is set to rise to 10 percent from 8 percent in April 2017, which is expected to considerably depress consumption, at least temporarily.
Postponing the tax hike again would be at great political risk for Abe because he has already put off his original plan of raising the unpopular tax next month, after hiking it to 8 percent from 5 percent in April 2014.
“As I have repeatedly said, the security bills must be enacted during this Diet session (which ends Sept. 27) at any cost,” LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters Tuesday after Abe won his hew term as LDP head.
“But . . . after finishing this, we need to focus on a goal that can be jointly pursued by (all the) people. Prime Minister Abe has said we need to work hard on economic measures,” Tanigaki said.