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Abe won’t abandon key economic goals as he pushes for constitutional reform, adviser says

Bloomberg

Japan will press ahead simultaneously with economic reform and constitutional changes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to revive his declining popularity, according to lawmaker Yasutoshi Nishimura, who advises the prime minister.

While Abe has vowed that he won’t take his eyes off the economy, some investors have expressed concern that his determination to rewrite the nation’s pacifist Constitution could come at the expense of further efforts to restructure the labor market and spur business investment.

“We can make progress on constitutional changes in parallel with economic and foreign policies,” Nishimura, 54, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Economic growth is important and making wages rise will be the key. We will try to introduce policy measures that will lead to higher wages.”

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, not the prime minister alone, will take the lead in preparing its constitutional reform bill for the fall session of the Diet, while the Abe administration keeps its focus on the economy, Nishimura said. The balancing act will be different from 2015, when a contentious reinterpretation of the Constitution tied Abe and his key ministers to the parliament constantly, he said.

“Changing the Constitution is a key objective of the party since its foundation,” said Nishimura, a former vice economy minister who now sits on an LDP committee pushing for constitutional change. “Basically there’s nobody who says stop it.”

Allegations of cronyism and scandals have caused a plunge in the approval rating of Abe’s Cabinet. His support has fallen to 26 percent, the lowest since taking office in 2012, according to a Mainichi newspaper poll conducted July 22-23.

Abe is set to reshuffle his Cabinet next week in a bid to regain support.

This week, Abe faced questioning in the Diet over why one of his close friends received government backing to open the country’s first veterinary college in decades. Abe delivered a polite and careful explanation in response to the accusations, Nishimura said.

Regardless of the allegations, his administration’s policies have received some public recognition for improving the nation’s economy, Nishimura said, adding that “we want to reflect on our conduct and move ahead.”