Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became on Sunday the third-longest-serving Japanese leader in the postwar era, with 1,981 days in office, surpassing the tenure of Junichiro Koizumi, who was in office between 2001 and 2006.
The figure combines Abe’s first stint in power from 2006 to 2007, when he abruptly stepped down due to ill health, with his second term, which began in December 2012.
The law sets no limit on how long prime ministers can serve, and by convention they are typically leaders of their own parties.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party extended the term limit for party leaders in March, a rule change that would enable him to serve a third consecutive three-year term as president until September 2021 if he wins another party leadership election next year.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba are two names that have been floated as potential contenders for that race.
Abe, 62, will become the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history in November 2019 if he remains in office. That will take him past Taro Katsura, who was prime minister for 2,886 days in the early 20th century.
The longest-serving prime minister after World War II, Eisaku Sato, was in power for 2,798 days between 1964 and 1972. Shigeru Yoshida ranks second at 2,616 days, serving for a year beginning in May 1946 and then between 1948 and 1954.
However, the Abe administration is becoming embroiled in several controversies and scandals, including allegations of influence-peddling involving the prime minister himself. Nevertheless, his support rating has stayed relatively high compared with his predecessors.
Abe’s right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has praised the prime minister for pushing through reforms on contentious issues to differentiate himself from Koizumi, who Abe has called his “political mentor.”
“I have the impression that the Koizumi administration implemented reforms by destroying resistance in the LDP, as was seen in the postal system reforms,” Suga said at a recent news conference.
“The Abe administration first seeks allies in the ruling coalition, which is completely different (from Koizumi),” Suga said.
“Any administration should be evaluated not by the length of its power, but what it has achieved,” Suga said, vowing that Abe’s government would continue to prioritize the revitalizing the economy and taming deflation.
Despite the rhetoric, Abe has spent much of his time promoting efforts to bypass or revise the pacifist Constitution, which he believes was foisted upon Japan by the U.S.-led Occupation after Japan lost World War II. He has also set the goal of pulling off a successful Tokyo Olympics in 2020.