Forty days have passed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office Sept. 26, and the administration, judging by the actions of the first new prime minister in 5 1/2 years, appears to be off to a very good start.

In his first policy speech to the Diet, Abe pledged to keep up the momentum for reform, based on his belief that Japan’s future depends on economic growth.

As for our relations with China and South Korea — one of the biggest problems in the administration of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi — Abe took a major step in improving ties by holding summits with Chinese and South Korean leaders on Oct. 8 and 9.

Abe has also responded quickly and appropriately to North Korea’s unofficial nuclear test — news of which just arrived as he was visiting Seoul.

He is also eager to strengthen the influence of the Cabinet secretariat. He has followed Koizumi’s policy of using the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy as the driving engine of reform, while taking fresh initiatives, such as appointing senior lawmakers — including a former Cabinet minister — as his special advisers.

As exemplified by his Liberal Democratic Party’s victories in House of Representatives by-elections Oct. 22 in Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures, voters in general seem to think highly of the Abe Cabinet’s first steps. A recent media poll shows Abe has a very high public approval rating of about 70 percent.

One factor behind Abe’s strong public support is the change in the public’s attitude toward politics.

In the past, people tended to believe Japanese politics would never change no matter who became prime minister. Today, however, many voters expect a leader to display strong individual character.

Political leaders, for their part, seem more willing than ever to accelerate reforms on their own, instead of relying on bureaucrats. Abe, who served as chief Cabinet secretary and in other key positions in the Koizumi administration, has been at the center of Japan’s reform efforts for the past several years.

Japan faces many challenges, ranging from rising international competition to a dwindling birthrate and a rapidly aging population. If greater efforts are made to increase policy-oriented interaction between lawmakers and voters, I believe Japanese politics will be able to accelerate the pace of reforms.

Since 2004, Keidanren has been making annual evaluations of the policies of the major political parties and urging its member companies to donate to the parties based on that evaluation. The donations rose nearly 40 percent to 2.5 billion yen in 2005, and participation is continuing to spread to more companies and industries.

Keidanren considers political donations an important contribution to society that helps foster policy-oriented politics, and believes donations to be the most transparent way to finance political activity. We hope to accelerate efforts so we can push more strongly for structural reform.

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